So, the prospect of siccing a semper tyrannis on the current POTUS has been discussed for the past quarter millennium or so. This has left me wondering, what sort of laws are there against murdering, or otherwise criminally ending the life of, the president compared to a regular citizen?

1 Answer 1


Murdering a sitting President is singled out as a separate federal crime from murder, in general, which is another crime that could be brought in such a case. See 18 U.S.C. § 1751.

This is notable because (1) it carries a possible death penalty even if the murder took place in a state without a death penalty, (2) it would be tried in a federal district court and commenced by federal prosecutors, rather than in a state court with state prosecutors (and usually a smaller jury pool area than federal court), and (3) the number of appeals from a federal conviction is significantly smaller than the number of appeals from a state court criminal conviction. This statute is an exception to the posse comitatus statute which forbids the use of the military to enforce domestic criminal laws. It also has extraterritorial jurisdiction so it can be used to pursue offenders outside the U.S. and crimes committed outside the U.S.

There are two direct appeals possible (the U.S. Court of Appeals and then the U.S. Supreme Court), and one collateral attack in a trial court with two direct appeals from that possible for a total of five post-trial proceedings.

State courts usually have up to ten post-trial proceedings (three direct appeals to intermediate state appeals court, state supreme court and U.S. Supreme Court, a state collateral attack with three direct appeals, and a federal collateral attack with two direct appeals) although some states send death penalty cases directly from a trial court to the state supreme court by statute or because the state doesn't have an intermediate appellate court, reducing the number of post-trial court proceedings from ten to eight.

So federal court criminal prosecutions become final sooner.

The statute states that:

(a) Whoever kills (1) any individual who is the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President, or, if there is no Vice President, the officer next in the order of succession to the Office of the President of the United States, the Vice President-elect, or any person who is acting as President under the Constitution and laws of the United States, or (2) any person appointed under section 105(a)(2)(A) of title 3 employed in the Executive Office of the President or appointed under section 106(a)(1)(A) of title 3 employed in the Office of the Vice President, shall be punished as provided by sections 1111 and 1112 of this title [ed. which allows for the death penalty or other punishments based upon the offender's mens rea]. . . .

(c)Whoever attempts to kill . . . any individual designated in subsection (a) of this section shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life.

(d)If two or more persons conspire to kill . . . any individual designated in subsection (a) of this section and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be punished (1) by imprisonment for any term of years or for life, or (2) by death or imprisonment for any term of years or for life, if death results to such individual. . . .

(f) The terms “President-elect” and “Vice-President-elect” as used in this section shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the offices of President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained from the results of the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 1 and 2.

(g) The Attorney General of the United States, in his discretion is authorized to pay an amount not to exceed $100,000 for information and services concerning a violation of subsection (a)(1). Any officer or employee of the United States or of any State or local government who furnishes information or renders service in the performance of his official duties shall not be eligible for payment under this subsection.

(h) If Federal investigative or prosecutive jurisdiction is asserted for a violation of this section, such assertion shall suspend the exercise of jurisdiction by a State or local authority, under any applicable State or local law, until Federal action is terminated.

(i) Violations of this section shall be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistance may be requested from any Federal, State, or local agency, including the Army, Navy, and Air Force, any statute, rule, or regulation to the contrary notwithstanding.

(j) In a prosecution for an offense under this section the Government need not prove that the defendant knew that the victim of the offense was an official protected by this section.

(k) There is extraterritorial jurisdiction over the conduct prohibited by this section.

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    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 22:12
  • Does "extraterritorial jurisdiction" mean "extraterritorial to the state", or "extraterritorial to the US"? And if the latter - what does this mean?
    – WoJ
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 14:37
  • 1
    from justice.gov/criminal-ceos/…, "Extraterritorial jurisdiction is the legal authority of the United States to prosecute criminal conduct that took place outside its borders." Basically, if someone kills the President in a foreign country, the US reserves the right to prosecute that person.
    – JasonB
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 22:37

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