Articles of impeachment are formal accusations of wrongdoing lodged against a public official. Many nations allow their legislatures to impeach people such as heads of state, and lesser officials can also be impeached through legislative actions. The articles of impeachment represent a set of charges, and additional action must be taken after they are drafted for a trial to take place. Impeachment of elected officials is relatively rare in most modern governments.
The process for impeaching public officials varies, depending on the nation and the official. As a general rule, legislators in a lower house draft the articles of impeachment and then introduce them to the floor for a vote. If a majority vote is obtained, the articles of impeachment are sent to a higher house. The higher house holds a trial and votes on whether or not the elected official should be impeached. A majority vote, commonly in the form of a two thirds majority, must be obtained for the official to be removed from office.
Once impeached, a public official can still be held liable for his or her actions. For example, if the legislature votes to impeach a prime minister because she or he committed murder, the prime minister can also be tried in a court of law for the crime of murder, and may be subject to civil charges as well. Impeachment is solely a mechanism for removing elected officials from office.
The articles of impeachment clearly spell out all of the offenses the official is being charged with, and provide factual basis for the charges. While it is possible for only one article to be introduced, commonly there are several and in some impeachment cases there have been numerous articles of impeachment. When the upper house votes on the impeachment, each article is voted on separately; it is possible for public officials to be convicted on some charges but not on others.
Sometimes, people introduce articles of impeachment as an act of protest or commentary. In this case, an official is well aware that she or he probably cannot attract enough votes to send the articles of impeachment to a higher house, but they are brought to the floor anyway. This gives officials an opportunity to air grievances and alert members of the public to wrongdoing on the part of elected officials. Such actions are usually reported on by the media and sometimes they attract wide coverage, especially if the legislator introducing the articles is media-savvy.