Why are defendants in trials for alleged criminal violations of the 1917 US Espionage Act, -- as, say, Julian Assange would be if extradited to the US -- not afforded the same right to an open and public jury trial that all other defendants in criminal cases are allowed? Is this patent violation of the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial written into the Espionage Act itself,or is it justified by arguments from other legal precedents?

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    Likely due to the classified nature of the evidence. Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 16:17
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    What makes you believe there is no such right? As far as I know, this right exists and applies to the Espionage Act just as to all other crimes. For instance, I believe the Rosenbergs received a jury trial on their espionage charges Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 16:43
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    It's true that jury trials rarely occur in espionage cases, but AFAIK that's just because the government tries very hard to plea-bargain to avoid a trial where classified evidence might have to be disclosed. I imagine it is not hard to strike a bargain when the government offers a sentence of twenty years, if the other option is going to trial with the death penalty on the table. Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 16:45
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    You can read the entire text of the Espionage Act as amended at 18 USC 791-799; it's not that long. I see nothing at all about jury trials, so there's certainly no ban "written into" the Act - and even if there were, it would be unconstitutional and void under the Sixth Amendment which contains no exceptions. Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 16:49
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    There is a right to a jury trial. The right to have that jury trial conducted in public can yield in whole or in part to other considerations, however.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 19:51

2 Answers 2


There is no exception arising from the Espionage Act, indeed in Gorin v. US, 312 U.S. 19, one of the holdings is that "In a prosecution under §§ 1(b) and 2 of the Espionage Act, the jury determines whether the acts of the defendants were connected with or related to the national defense under proper tests laid down by the instructions". This does not mean that the prosecution will not be eager to avoid the possibility of jury nullification and may hope for a bench trial. Here is the transcript of the jury verdict in the trial of the Rosenbergs, and another report of an espionage conviction in a trial by jury. There is no evidence that Assange "would not be afforded a trial by jury" if he requested it.


Here is an article explaining how difficult it is to defend oneself in a whistleblower or leaker trial setting under the Espionage Act. That means that one's chances of receiving an acquittal if one goes to trial rather than accept a plea deal drop close to 0. In fact the Eastern VA District Court has NEVER acquitted anyone brought to trial for a whistleblower offense. Thus the de facto conclusion is that a jury trial is for all intents and purposes not an option for such defendants. https://freedom.press/news/if-snowden-returned-to-us-for-trial-all-whistleblower-evidence-would-likely-be-inadmissible/

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