Given the state of education in America these days, it’s likely that precious few students today have ever read the once-classic story, “The Man Without A Country” – therefore most people today would be surprised to learn that “exile” was once a serious part of American law. The assumption was, “If you can’t live with our society, live without it”. The early American colonists relied on “banishment” as a legal punishment for civil or religious infractions. For example, Roger Williams was banished from the
colony in 1635 for complaining about the colonists’ practice of stealing land
from the local Indians. Cast out,
Williams went to the Indians and took care to buy land from them, on which he founded the colony of . Rhode Island
As I recall, the laws concerning application of that particular sentence are still on the books, and I think it’s time we considered them again.
At present, only non-citizens can be deported from the
. Citizens can be exiled only for engaging in war or espionage against the US –
in other words, treason. Technically,
“engaging in private diplomacy” may get you exiled and stripped of US citizenship,
though that has never been invoked.
Exile or “banishment” from a state is a little more complicated. Sixteen states have constitutional provisions
prohibiting banishment, and others have banned the practice through appeals
courts decisions, on the grounds that citizens have a right to live where they
choose. It remains on the books in a
handful of states, and US
prescribes it as punishment for “corruption”, but such sentences are usually
overturned on appeal. Maryland
Still, a lot of prosecutors are arguing for a restoration of the practice – among other things, noting that federal courts already have a form of voluntary exile as part of the plea-agreement system. In effect, the crook is given a suspended sentence so long as s/he stays out of the country for a particular number of years – but if s/he returns before then, the axe drops. It’s generally assumed that banishment can’t be open-ended but must have a term-limit – generally the same length of time that the convicted would otherwise spend in prison.
Whether or not people have a right to live wherever they want to – and whole countries, as well as states and cities might argue with that – not even the ACLU can claim that banishment/exile is either unusual or more cruel than locking people up in prison. The legal justification for incarceration, besides keeping proven criminals away from the rest of society, is to “rehabilitate” them. This is why prisons in the
sorts of educational programs to inmates, not to mention the reliable
chaplains. This hasn’t proved nearly as
useful as the legal theorists hoped; all
too often prisoners pick up criminal tactics and contacts in prison – not to
mention a taste for Jihadist terrorism – which they put to bad use when they’re
released. And never mind the sheer cost
of keeping such a large portion of our population in prison. It would be cheaper, as well as more
merciful, to banish/deport/exile our convicted felons – citizens or not – to
whatever other country will have them, and let them work out their own
rehabilitation on their own time and at their own expense. US
Who knows? The exiles might actually do a decent job of it. Historically, gangs of exiles, thrown out on their own resources, have founded not only successful colonies – like
So yes, it’s time to seriously consider widening the laws on exile – under any name.