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It Means A Lot More Than You Think
The Fifth Amendment actually includes several individual rights in both criminal and civil litigation. But most people know it as a right against making self-incriminating statements, or more simply the “right to remain silent.”
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Scholars consider the Fifth Amendment as capable of breaking down into the following five distinct constitutional rights:
- The right to indictment by the grand jury before any criminal charges for felonious crimes
- A prohibition on double jeopardy
- A right against forced self-incrimination
- A guarantee that all criminal defendants have a fair trial, and
- A guarantee that the government cannot seize private property without making a due compensation at the market value of the property.
When Can You Plead the Fifth?
For someone to utilize the protections against making incriminating statements, the following criteria must be met:
- The statement is compelled in some way.
Meaning through the legal process of being taken into custody, during subpoena for testimony or statements, and/or in court testimony.
- The communication must also be testimonial in nature.
In other words, it must relate to either express or implied assertions of fact or belief. For example, a nod would be considered a testimonial communication for purposes of the Fifth Amendment. So would the act of producing documents or any other piece of evidence; the act of production communicates an implied assertion that the individual possessed the evidence.
- The testimony must be self-incriminating.
Meaning the information would provide a link in the chain of evidence needed to prosecute the individual for a crime. Thus, the information itself need not be incriminating; it suffices that the information would lead to the discovery of incriminating evidence.
Court & The 5th Amendment
Grand juries are a holdover from the early British common law dating back to the 12th century. Deeply rooted in the Anglo-American tradition, the grand jury was originally intended to protect the accused from overly zealous prosecutions by the English monarchy.
The Double Jeopardy Clause aims to protect against the harassment of an individual through successive prosecutions of the same alleged act, to ensure the significance of an acquittal, and to prevent the state from putting the defendant through the emotional, psychological, physical, and financial troubles that would accompany multiple trials for the same alleged offense.
Meaning, if a defendant has been tried and acquitted of a crime, they can’t be charged with the same crime again based on the same facts and circumstances.
Due Process Clause
The guarantee of due process for all persons requires the government to respect all rights, guarantees, and protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution and all applicable statutes before the government can deprive any person of life, liberty, or property. Due process essentially guarantees that a party will receive a fundamentally fair, orderly, and just judicial proceeding.
Applies to Federal AND State Courts
While the Fifth Amendment originally only applied to federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court has partially incorporated the Fifth Amendment to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The right to indictment by the grand jury has not been incorporated, while the right against double jeopardy, the right against self-incrimination, and the protection against arbitrary taking of private property without due compensation have all been incorporated into the states.
Self-Incrimination and Pleading the Fifth
The Fifth Amendment also protects criminal defendants from having to testify if they may incriminate themselves through the testimony. A witness may "plead the Fifth" and not answer if the witness believes answering the question may be self-incriminatory.
In the landmark Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436 (1966) ruling, the United States Supreme Court extended the Fifth Amendment protections to encompass any situation outside of the courtroom that involves the curtailment of personal freedom. Meaning any time that law enforcement takes a suspect into custody, law enforcement must make the suspect aware of all rights. These rights became known as “Miranda Rights” or being “Mirandized.” These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and the right to have a government-appointed attorney if the suspect cannot afford one.
CAUTION – The courts have since then slightly narrowed the Miranda rights, holding that law enforcement interrogation or questioning that occurs prior to taking the suspect into custody does not fall within the Miranda requirements, and the police are not required to give Miranda warnings to the suspects prior to taking them into custody.
Understanding Your Fifth Amendment Rights
It is vital that all citizens understand their Constitutional Rights. In this blog, we have discussed the variety of rights insured by the 5th Amendment, including the right to a grand jury proceeds, double jeopardy, the right against self-incrimination, right to due process of law. The 5th Amendment is so much more than just the right to remain silent.