The presidency plays a huge role in preserving and protecting the law and constitution. The president has different responsibilities which need to be enforced, implemented, and directed for the well-being of any country.
These responsibilities are directly connected to the security, development, and management of any state, province, or country in the world.
As the president needs to direct everything being in the leading position, what if he/she breaks any law or gets involved with any crime? Can the president go to jail and get punishment for the wrongdoings? The answer can be both “no” and “yes.” Let’s discuss the matter in detail.
For any crime, should the president go to jail or not? This is a question of argument among different political scientists, legal researchers, and law enforcement authorities. To summarize all the theories regarding this issue, here we have come with two arguments that will help you to understand both sides.
Argument Regarding The Power And Immunity
The president holds the highest power in a country. He/she is the chief of armed forces and has full authority and power to appoint ambassadors, public ministers, officers, consults, and judges of the Supreme Court.
In a democratic country, arresting the leader will become a huge difficulty and chaos for the government to function properly. Considering this issue, the constitution says that the president cannot be jailed without being impeached and removed from office.
Argument Regarding Equality In Justice
In a country of democracy, no one should be immune to punishment. Besides, everyone should be answerable to the same law. Comparing to other nations, the USA is highly considered for offering equality in all sectors.
Then why should the president be free from the law? Why will the laws of the country work in favor of him/her? This remains a burning question for all the political analysts and the common people of a country.
The fathers of the USA constitution have stated several laws regarding the punishment of any president who has committed a crime. The history of all the wrongdoings of presidents and the aftermath play a vital role in having a clear idea regarding this issue.
Impeachment is very rare in America, and without impeachment, no president can be convicted or go to jail. In 250 years of American history, three presidents- Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump have been impeached. But no one has been sent to jail or prison.
According to the congress, the main allegations against the 17th president of the USA Andrew Johnson were-
- During the American civil war, he refused to secede from the union
- While bringing the states of the confederacy back into the nation, his approach towards reconstruction expressed racism
- He violated the Tenure of Office Act
- He removed the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and found a replacement without consulting the Senate
After analyzing the allegations against Andrew Johnson, congress produced 11 articles of his impeachment. The majority of the house impeached him, and the case was transferred to the Senate for trial.
During the trial, the defense of Andrew Johnson proved that most of the allegations against him were political and have been set by his opponents. So, he was not removed from his office, and several republicans voted to keep him in the position.
After that result of the trial, it was added to the constitution that no president will be impeached further due to political reasons. This made it more infrequent and difficult to notice any president sent to jail or prison.
Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the USA. The allegations brought up by the congress are-
- Bill Clinton denied his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
- After his affair went on public, he perjured himself while investigation.
- He had a lot of anger issues and behaved very roughly in congress.
- To mislead the investigation going against him, he influenced the White House staff to deny his crime.
Many political analysts and constitutional law experts said that Clinton had made many grave mistakes, and his wrongdoings cannot be justified in any way. But those were not enough for his impeachment.
After the trial, the public went against Bill Clinton’s impeachment. It destroyed the efforts of removing him from office. The result of the trial set a precedent that the president should be removed from his/her office only in limited circumstances.
The most recent president of the USA who faced impeachment is Donald Trump. He was a businessman before serving as the 45th president of the USA. The main allegations against him were-
- Abusing his power, Trump had enlisted a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.
- During an investigation of his wrongdoings, he interfered with the congress.
- He ordered the Executive Branch Officials to act in favor of him with the testimony to create an obstruction of congress.
- He betrayed the nation and violated the public trust.
Like the consequences of the past impeachments, Donald Trump was not removed from his office due to several laws and reasons.
After the trial, only one senator voted to convict Trump in charge of abusing his power. Different constitutional experts admit that Trump’s allegations fall under “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But his activities betrayed the nation and the public rather than breaking the law.
There were also other presidents in the history of the USA who have been threatened to be impeached by the Congress and Senate. But the allegations against them were not enough for the final impeachment.
The Process Of Impeachment And Conviction
Though a president can have several allegations against him/her, it is not that easy to impeach and convict him/her because of the wrongdoings. Before we discuss impeachment, you need to know what impeachment is and why it is so important?
According to the USA constitution, congress can remove the president, vice president, and federal civil officers for the crimes which fall under “high crimes and misdemeanors.” This process is called impeachment.
When a public does any crime, he/she is brought under justice within a short time. But it is not applicable for the president. If the president gets convicted immediately after any wrongdoing, it will create dysfunction in the government and all over the country.
That’s why the constitution has come up with the idea of impeachment to conduct the removal of the president without creating any chaos in the government.
“High Crimes and Misdemeanors”
This particular term addresses those crimes which are counted as a reason to remove the president from his/her power. These include treason, bribery, abuse of power, betrayal of the nation, and ruining the public trust.
The constitution says the president cannot be removed by violating an ordinary criminal law. To be removed from the position, his/her crimes must be related to the violation of power that can affect the public and whole nation at large.
There are several steps in the impeachment process, and these lead to the removal of the president.
After being aware of the offenses, six house committees are bound to start investigating the issues. They decide that if the offenses are enough for impeachment or not. After finding the serious and strong cases, they send them to the judiciary department for further procedure.
2. Voting of the House Members
Suppose the investigation results in favor of the president, no further procedure of impeachment are continued. But in case of finding strong allegations and offenses by the house, voting takes place. The house may hold a floor vote on several articles of impeachment.
The house members vote about the removal of the president. If the majority votes for impeachment, the articles move to Senate for holding a further trial.
3. Holding a Trial
In the trial of the Senate, the president can get his/her own defense lawyer. The Senate works as the jury, and the managers who are basically legislators of the house act as prosecutors.
After the trial, the president will be impeached if two-thirds of the Senators find the president guilty. If that happens, no further appeal will be counted. But if the majority of the Senators think of the allegations not enough for impeachment, the president will be released from all the legal procedures.
According to the constitution of the USA, the president will be impeached and removed if his/her crimes were proved. After impeachment, he/she can possibly face prison or jail. But such situations never happened.
There is no 100% clear answer about “can the president go to jail?” Many legal researchers and constitutional experts have different opinions about this issue. But no one could answer this question in one word — “yes” or “no,” because only vague and possible answers could be found in the constitution and legal frameworks.
Though there is no guaranteed answer, we hope that this article helped you get a broad idea about the possibility of the president going to jail.