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Sun, 18 Nov 2018
"I Plead the Fifth" - What Does It Mean in Court?
The witness is in the court for the last day of a prominent trial. The prosecutor can almost incriminate the accused. He interrogates the witness and the person says "I plead the Fifth." You will hear this phrase most of the time, but do you know what it means and why it happens?
What is the Exact Meaning of "I Plead the Fifth?"
The "I plead the fifth" phrase is among the most accepted pleadings in all American trial courts. This popular phrase came from the Fifth Amendment in the Constitution of the US. It warns public officials about abusing their rights and authority in legal proceedings.
The Fifth Amendment is a segment of the Bill of Rights that became a section of the US constitution in 1791. The government created the Fifth Amendment to protect a person from going to the jail, except when the police indicted him in the right way. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution gives you the freedom to remain silent while the investigation continues. This is also called the constitutional privilege against self-accusation.
When you say "I plead the fifth", it means that you invoke the privilege not to convict yourself with your own statement. It also means you don't want to be susceptible to blame. A criminal trial is the strongest application of the Fifth Amendment in which the accused has the freedom to refuse to give a statement in the court.
Pleading the fifth also protects you from self-incrimination. When you prefer to plead the fifth, it means that no one can force you to answer questions or give any details that can incriminate you. This privilege to remain silent is the same with the rights outlined in the Miranda rights.
Pleading the fifth is applicable when you testify in a court. If you are a witness, you can also choose not to give any information to the court to avoid self-incrimination. When you think answering the questions or testifying will give incriminating information to the court then you can say, "I plead the fifth." But, you should give any information about the defendant when you pledge and testify in the court. You cannot withhold information that will incriminate you or another person when you don't plead the fifth. As a witness, you must give information to the court except for those details that may incriminate you.
Can You Say "I Plead the Fifth" as a Defendant?
If someone accuses you of a crime, one thing that may cross your mind when thinking of your possible defense tactics is whether you must plead the fifth. Whatever your case is, you always have the constitutional right to elude self-incrimination by not giving a statement. You may believe you need to answer each question coming from the prosecutor. But, the only information you should give him is your basic personal details, like your name, address, and date of birth.
When the authorities arrest you, there is an irresistible desire to give explanations to the police and court officials. You may also feel the need to share your story with your cellmates, loved ones, or friends. In these situations, you should always keep in mind that anything you tell someone else may become a proof that can be used to incriminate you. You can always plead the fifth as it will benefit you whether you are guilty of the accusations or not.
Pleading the fifth can do great things for you and your case. As a defendant, you have the right to remain silent, and the authorities cannot ask or force you to give them any information. The judge, prosecution, and jury will respect your decision and right to refrain from testifying. The jury does not have the freedom to view your unwillingness to swear and say something as a sign of guilt.
Yet, when you answer the questions or give information, the authorities can use your statement to convict you of a crime. Pleading the fifth does not save you from anything else. As an accused, you can't say no when the police take you to get your fingerprints. Also, you can't stop them from getting a sample of your saliva or a strand of your hair for a DNA test even when you choose not to give a statement.
How Do Words Become Evidence?
The prosecutor will try to find anything that can prove the accusations against you. He will review your statement and take anything he finds useful. You cannot take it back. Likewise, you cannot deny your statement.
Words can become evidence. If you don't know what you should say to defend yourself better in court, it is always safe to remain silent. Pleading the fifth is one thing you can do as a witness or a defendant. When you choose not to answer the questions, the court cannot do anything about it.
Pleading the Fifth Doesn't Protect Your Actions
Pleading the fifth cannot offer protection for your behavior and actions. No one will force you to speak. Even when the prosecution or law enforcement asks you with many questions, you are not required to answer any of them.
But, you cannot use the right to plead the fifth lightly. In a criminal justice system, you remain acquitted until the court finds you guilty. Pleading the fifth can bring about qualms of guilt that can affect the case in a jury trial. Talk to an attorney, and he will guide you in using your constitutional rights to protect yourself.
You already have the right to plead the fifth in the beginning. However, you can lose it anytime. You can waive it intentionally by answering a question. Also, you can do that in an unintentional and insensible way by responding to other compelling questions.
When is Pleading the Fifth Inapplicable?
After the criminal case, the Fifth Amendment is no longer applicable, and the court will force you to testify. It happens when you face a case after the incident, and the victim sues you in the correct way. While the case is pending, you can rely on the Fifth Amendment. But, you should testify to the facts about the event or accident when the case is over. Besides, the prosecutor can grant immunity to the witness to secure his testimony. In this scenario, the person summoned cannot plead the fifth.
When Should You Hire a Lawyer?
When facing a case, you must understand your rights and deal with an experienced lawyer who will guide you during a stressful scenario like this. A good attorney will defend your rights and guide you from the beginning until the court decides. Your lawyer will also teach you how to use your constitutional right to your best advantage. He can advise you better on how you can make the most out of your right to plead the fifth.
If you are the defendant, always keep in mind the importance of working with a criminal defense lawyer for your case. Let him stand in front of the court and speak for you. As your representative, your lawyer can present a proof that will be in your favor. He will also look for inconsistencies in the prosecution's case to get your liabilities and case reduced or dismissed.