Trump ‘trial’ a bit different

WASHINGTON (AP) — Yes, it’s a trial — but the Senate’s impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump won’t resemble anything Americans have seen on Court TV.

A look at some of the key differences between a courtroom trial and the impeachment trial:


COURTROOM: Federal trials, both civil and criminal, are presided over by District Court judges who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. They rule on questions of evidence, motions to dismiss the case or to exclude certain testimony, and all other disputes that emerge both before and during the trial.

SENATE: None other than John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States, will preside over this case. Exactly what role he’ll play is unclear. And even if Roberts were to make a ruling from the chair, 51 senators can vote to overrule him.


COURTROOM: It’s a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence, and enshrined in the Constitution, that defendants have the right to have their fate decided by a jury of their peers — ordinary citizens who, by design, are meant to lack personal connections to the parties, or other biases or motives that could sway their judgment.

SENATE: The jury pool here is already preordained under the Constitution and neither side gets any say in who gets to hear the case. The 100 senators who make up the chamber will decide the case.


COURTROOM: The attorneys for both sides get to call the witnesses they think will bolster their side of the case. The lawyers themselves handle the direct questioning and cross-examination, though judges may also ask clarifying questions. Jurors are not invited to interrupt the proceedings with their own questions, nor do they get to decide whether witnesses are called.

SENATE: The senators themselves, in their roles as jurors, will have the opportunity to submit questions in writing. Under the rules, senators can even be called as witnesses in the trial. And it’s not even automatic that there will be witnesses: It requires 51 votes for witnesses to be called.


COURTROOM: Federal criminal cases are tried by prosecutors who work for the Justice Department, and their names generally unfamiliar to the American public. In state and local proceedings, those prosecutors are often known as assistant district attorneys.

SENATE: The prosecutors here aren’t prosecutors in the traditional sense. They’re actually seven Democratic members of Congress, all selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and given the title of “manager.”


COURTROOM: To declare a defendant guilty in a criminal case, either on the state or federal level, a jury must be unanimous in its decision — no exceptions. If a jury can’t reach a verdict after a prolonged period of deliberations, then a judge can declare it as deadlocked and dismiss it from duty.

SENATE: No such unanimity is required here. It would take a two-thirds majority of senators, 67 if all 100 are voting, to convict the president. Since Republicans make up the majority of the Senate, a conviction is seen as unlikely.


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