Title

IMPEACHMENT TRIAL TO BE FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT FROM A COURTROOM TRIAL, EXPLAINS UGA LAW PROFESSOR

Abstract

Thursday, January 14, 1999

WRITER: Kathy R. Pharr, 706/542-5172, pharr@jd.lawsch.uga.edu

CONTACT: Prof. Dan Coenen, 706/542-5301

IMPEACHMENT TRIAL TO BE FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT FROM A COURTROOM TRIAL, EXPLAINS UGA LAW PROFESSOR

ATHENS, Ga. - The presidential impeachment trial beginning in the U.S. Senate will be "fundamentally different" from any trial the public has ever seen, says University of Georgia constitutional law professor Dan Coenen.

"In a courtroom trial, you have a jury that's charged very carefully, focusing only on the actual evidence in the case, and there are very strict rules of evidence that apply," says Coenen. "Here you have a jury that is regularly on talk shows and following closely in the media what's happening, which isn't evidence in the case at all."

After opening statements -- what Coenen calls an "analog to a trial" - a motion to dismiss the case will be made. If it fails, presentation of evidence and witnesses will begin, a process he believes could be "very cumbersome, very slow and very messy," because any ruling made by the presiding judge, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, can be overturned by a majority vote of the Senate.

"This is very unusual," Coenen says. "It would be as if in a criminal trial, a judge ruled that certain evidence was inadmissable, and then the jury voted by 7 to 5 to say the evidence was admissible."

Senators will have to wrestle with three basic questions on each count, Coenen says: Did the president commit the alleged offenses? If so, are they high crimes and misdemeanors? And do they warrant removal from office?

"It seems to me that there is a factual question, there's a legal question, and there's a question of judgment or discretion," says Coenen. "Not everyone is going to agree that all those questions are there, but at least many senators implicitly are asking those questions in their own minds, and those are all questions that have to be answered 'yes' for the president to be removed."

Another quandary Coenen foresees is definition of the burden of proof. Because there is no Senate rule on the standard, each senator must decide how convincing the proof must be: "beyond a reasonable doubt," "clear and convincing," or "a preponderance of the evidence."

Coenen, a renowned constitutional law scholar and former judicial law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, joined the UGA law faculty in 1987.

Share

COinS