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U.S. Senate Chamber. Credit: Architect of the Capitol. U.S. Senate Chamber. Credit: Architect of the Capitol.

Now that an impeachment trial in the Senate is imminent, what would it look like if Chief Justice John Roberts conducted it like a federal criminal trial with a properly instructed jury? It won’t be, of course, but you can bet that politicians on both sides of the aisle will be talking about what is and isn’t hearsay, how to determine intent, the significance of circumstantial evidence, what to make of missing witnesses, and generally, what evidence is reliable.

While the Senate trial will definitely not be governed by the Federal Rules of Evidence, it’s worth looking at them if only to see what guidance they provide. They are, after all, the product of many years of common law and statutory revision and exist “to the end of ascertaining the truth and securing a just determination.” Likewise with typical jury instructions used in federal court. So, let’s take a quick spin through the rules and standard instructions and clear up a few things.

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