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In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine accuses Mace Windu and other Jedi Masters of treason for trying to arrest him. Were they actually committing treason though?

First of all, Palpatine had certainly broken the law. He assisted the Trade Federation and therefore had committed treason himself. He also took action to murder Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn, which is surely illegal.

I don't know if Mace Windu was legally allowed to arrest Palpatine, but even if not he was trying to arrest a criminal, perhaps this could go down as a citizen's arrest.

So the question is: My lord, is that legal (to arrest Palpatine, or was it treason)?

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    1) was it treason to assist the Trade Federation the way he did in Ep 1? | 2 - Nute Gunray was the one who ordered the hit on Jinn and Kenobi on the ship, not Palpatine. Do we ever see him order Maul to kill the Jedi? Perhaps Maul was off on his own vengance plan of action? Palpatine was the legally appointed head of state and Windu comes in weilding a sword? You're listening to that Jedi propaganda ;) – NKCampbell Dec 4 '19 at 0:25
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    Depending on the definition of treason, it might be neither legal nor treason - it might be some other crime. ("Coup d'etat" springs to mind as a description, but I'm not entirely sure how that would make it on a docket.) – Cadence Dec 4 '19 at 0:29
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    I don't think we know enough of the legal particulars of the Republic. It was probably illegal (usually you at least need some kind of warrant to arrest the head of state). Probably not treason depending on its definition. When the plan changed to summary execution he was definitely going to be in trouble. – OrangeDog Dec 4 '19 at 0:31
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    Palpatine had certainly broken the law. He assisted the Trade Federation and therefore had committed treason himself. ~> That's upto the courts to decide, not a Jedi. – Umbrella Corporation Dec 4 '19 at 7:10
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    I can't possibly see how this is a duplicate of scifi.stackexchange.com/q/164080/110291 That one is asking whether or not it was legal for Palpatine to execute Order 66, this one is asking whether or not Mace Windu was legally allowed to arrest Palpatine. I guess they are related questions but that doesn't make them the same question. Even if order 66 was legal that doesn't necessarily mean that they couldn't arrest him. Perhaps an answer could draw upon that fact and reference the other question, but an answer to that question isn't likely to directly answer this as well. – DJ Spicy Deluxe Dec 4 '19 at 20:40
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The novelisation has a very slightly different version of the conversation with Windu and Palpatine. It would appear that their stated reason for arresting him was flawed, hence their arrest procedure was flawed since you can't just arrest someone for their religious beliefs in the Republic.

PALPATINE: I beg your pardon? What I am? When last I checked, I was Supreme Chancellor of the Republic you are sworn to serve. I hope I misunderstand what you mean by custody, Master Windu. It smacks of treason.

MACE WINDU: You’re under arrest.

PALPATINE: Really, Master Windu, you cannot be serious. On what charge?

MACE WINDU: You’re a Sith Lord!

PALPATINE: Am I? Even if true, that’s hardly a crime. My philosophical outlook is a personal matter. In fact-the last time I read the Constitution, anyway-we have very strict laws against this type of persecution. So I ask you again: what is my alleged crime? How do you expect to justify your mutiny before the Senate? Or do you intend to arrest the Senate as well?

Revenge of the Sith: Official Novelisation

That being said, they also have evidence (from Anakin's testimony about Palpatine's admission) that Palpatine has been consorting with the enemy, so their decision to confront him was entirely valid. He's been committing treason and their intention was to arrest him for trial by the Senate rather than simply assassinating him.

MACE WINDU: In the name of the Galactic Senate of the Republic, you are under arrest, Chancellor.

MACE WINDU and the other JEDI ignite their lightsabers.

PALPATINE: Are you threatening me, Master Jedi?

MACE: The Senate will decide your fate.

RotS: Original Screenoplay

Without having a copy of the Republic Code of Justice in front of us, we can be reasonably certain that any decisions made in this matter would be political in nature, rather than being decided by recourse to the criminal courts, but their decision to arrest him immediately was a valid and proportionate one (and entirely legal), given the immediacy of his contact with the enemy and the severity of his crimes.

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    @user28434 - The Jedi order works for (alongside?) the Judicial Department, from whom they also receive payment. This presumably gives them the right to arrest criminals. – Valorum Dec 4 '19 at 11:57
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    @user28434 so you think, it might be possible that Jedi are allowed to kill people (as we witness several times during Episode I to III), but not to arrest them? – Holger Dec 4 '19 at 12:39
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    @user28434 - They were arresting him and binding him over for trial by the Senate. It would be for the Senate to judge both the crime and the legality/legitimacy of the arrest itself. – Valorum Dec 4 '19 at 14:42
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    @user28434 usually, immunity can be removed by the parliament or in case of the old republic in a galaxy far away, a long time ago, the Senate. And that’s where the Jedi wanted to bring him, initially. Ironically, letting the Senate decide the fate of the elected Supreme Chancellor should be part of the democratic process anyway, even without custody. And when he’s talking before the Senate, he could complain about the jurisdiction issue he has with the Jedi. The Jedi might not have the right to arrest the Supreme Chancellor, but the Supreme Chancellor hasn’t the right to kill traitors either. – Holger Dec 4 '19 at 15:05
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    Or do you intend to arrest the Senate as well? Seeing Palpatine refer to himself in third person is pretty weird... – Reaper Dec 5 '19 at 20:41
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I can provide an answer for the Legends continuity.

Windu and his fellow Jedi were authorized by Yoda (per the Revenge of the Sith novelization) to carry out the arrest of the Supreme Chancellor. However, since they showed up at Palpatine's private office without any Senate guards or security forces in tow, nor with any apparent warrant or legal cause for Palpatine's arrest, it's quite possible that they were technically committing treason by forcibly deposing the Chancellor even if they were doing it with the Republic's best interests in mind. Without knowing the full extent of the Jedi Order's jurisdiction in arrests et cetera as applied to high-ranking Republic political figures, Palpatine's accusation of treason may have been legitimate or only been for his office's security feed to further push his narrative that the Jedi attempted a coup.

The Republic Commando books by Karen Traviss describe several "Contingency Orders for the GAR", two of which are Order 65 and the infamous Order 66. Order 65 reads as follows:

Order 65: In the event of either (i) a majority in the Senate declaring the Supreme Commander (Chancellor) to be unfit to issue orders, or (ii) the Security Council declaring him to be unfit to issue orders, and an authenticated order being received by the GAR, commanders shall be authorized to detain the Supreme Commander, with lethal force if necessary, and command of the GAR shall fall to the acting Chancellor until a successor is appointed or alternative authority identified as outlined in Section 6 (iv).

According to the Contingency Orders, it was legal to remove the Supreme Chancellor from office, but only with authorization from the Senate or the Security Council, neither of which was given when Windu attempted to arrest Palpatine. Taking matters into their own hands, despite Windu's conviction that Palpatine "[controlled] the Senate and the courts" and the Jedi's status as commanding officers in the GAR that would have allowed them to temporarily take command in the absence of the Chancellor, would probably count as a treasonous action under these circumstances.

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    It may be worth adding that the Jedi were explicitly officers of the GAR; Windu himself was a General. – Cadence Dec 4 '19 at 2:38
  • It's entirely possible that accusations of treason had a different protocol. I'm blanking on specific examples but I feel like I remember Jedi making or attempting other arrests for treason without anyone's approval. Quinlan Vos, Barriss Offee, Ahsoka Tano, and Pong Krell in the Clone Wars cartoon come to mind as possibilities. – TheIronCheek Dec 4 '19 at 17:44
  • @TheIronCheek Umm, but Pong Krell was arrested by clones, and with a good reason. Barriss outright attacked Anakin, so it's not like they had much choice. And Ahsoka was already on the wanted list, since she was thought to have killed some of the clones, breached out of the prison, etc. – Reaper Dec 5 '19 at 21:01

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