What is an Impeachment Trial?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An impeachment trial is a legal proceeding at which people hear evidence relating to articles of impeachment, formal accusations against a public official. The articles of impeachment are a series of charges which, if proved, can result in the official's removal from office. Impeachment proceedings can attract a great deal of media attention when they involve high profile officials such as heads of state.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

While the term "impeachment" is often used to mean "remove someone from office," this term actually refers to generating a list of charges which are intended to be used in a trial to determine whether or not someone should be removed from office. When someone is impeached, it means that he or she has been formally charged. Charges can include things like neglect of duty, disrespect of public office, and other unlawful activity. Depending on the law, a vote may be required to approve the charges and initiate a trial.

In an impeachment trial, the official who has been impeached is allowed to present evidence to refute the charges, while another party presents evidence which supports the charges. The trial is overseen by a high ranking public official or judge. It is typical for both sides to retain legal counsel who will assist them with preparing and proving their cases, and other public officials observe the trial. The media may be present to report on the events at the impeachment trial and guests may be allowed to observe.

The mechanics of the impeachment trial vary. Different nations use different trial proceedings for handling situations in which public officials are accused of wrongdoing. The rank of the official can also have an impact. Trying someone like a head of state is very different from trying the mayor of a town for suspected misdeeds, and in some cases the protocol is not actually clear because lawmakers failed to foresee every possible situation.

At the close of the impeachment trial, a vote is held to determine whether or not the public official is guilty. If guilty, the official can be removed from office. When the verdict is not guilty, the official is allowed to continue to serve in the office. The impeachment proceedings may result in a rapidly declining career, however, as people may be mistrustful even after the official is found not guilty. In other cases, officials have overcome the shadow of an impeachment trial and gone on to very successful careers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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