Definition of impeachment
impeachment (plural impeachments)
- The act of impeaching a public official, either elected or appointed, before a tribunal charged with determining the facts of the matter
- the state of being impeached
- a demonstration, in a court of law, or before other finder of fact, that a witness was ingenious before and therefore is less likely to tell the truth now
Impeachment is a formal process in which an elected official is accused of unlawful activity, and which may or may not lead to the removal of that official from office. It is the first of two stages. Impeachment does not necessarily result in removal from office; it is only a legal statement of charges, parallel to an indictment in criminal law. An official who is impeached faces a second legislative vote (whether by the same body or another), which determines conviction, or failure to convict, on the charges embodied by the impeachment. Most constitutions require a supermajority to convict. Although the subject of the charge is criminal action, it does not constitute a criminal trial; the only question under consideration is the removal of the individual from office, and the possibility of a subsequent vote preventing the removed official from ever again holding political office in the jurisdiction where he was removed.
The word "impeachment" derives from Latin roots expressing the idea of becoming caught or entrapped, and has analogues in the modern French verb empÍcher (to prevent) and the modern English impede. Medieval popular etymology also associated it (wrongly) with derivations from the Latin impetere (to attack). (In its more frequent and more technical usage, impeachment of a person in the role of a [[witness] is the act of challenging the honesty or credibility of that person.)
The process should not be confused with a recall election. A recall election is usually initiated by voters and can be based on "political charges", for example mismanagement, whereas impeachment is initiated by a constitutional body (usually a legislative body) and is usually, but not always, based on an indictable offense. The process of removing the official is also different.
Impeachment is a British invention. More specifically, the process was first used by the English "Good Parliament" in the second half of the 14th century. Following the British example, the constitutions of Virginia (1776) and Massachusetts (1780) and other states thereafter adopted the impeachment doctrine. In private organizations, a motion to impeach can be used to prefer charges.
- Demeter, George (1969). Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, 1969 ed., p. 265
- Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.