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Constitutionality of Statute Imposing Death Penalty for Attempted Assassination of the President


Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, a statute making it a capital offense to attempt to assassinate the President would be unlikely to survive constitutional challenge, unless it were narrowly drawn to include only cases in which the defendant’s intent was unambiguous and the attempt nearly successful.

Both historical precedent and contemporary practice in this and other countries suggest that death would ordinarily be regarded by a court as an excessive punishment for the crime of attempted murder.  On the other hand, the unique position of the President in our constitutional system, coupled with the threat to the national security which an assault on his person would constitute, may warrant subjecting the crime of attempted assassination of the President to the death penalty.

Updated July 9, 2014