Pleading the Fifth Amendment
A person who is asked a question by the police or in a criminal court of law may choose not to answer. He will say, 'I plead the Fifth Amendment.' The clauses contained within this Amendment to the United States Constitution put some limits on police procedure when interrogating someone who has been arrested. A person on the witness stand in a trial or hearing may also choose to not testify and 'plead the Fifth.'
The first Ten Amendments are called the Bill of Rights. These were added to the original Constitution by the founding fathers when they realized that certain rights of citizens were not exactly set out in the Constitution itself. The Fifth Amendment contains five rights. The first is the right to 'indictment of a grand jury' before being charged with a felony crime. The second is the right to not be tried two times for the same crime. The third right is the right to not testify or answer questions if they may show guilt on the part of the person questioned. That is called 'self-incrimination.' The fourth right is the right for everyone charged with a crime to have a fair trial. The fifth right is the right for anyone who has land or property taken over by the government to be paid the fair selling price. The second, third and fifth of the rights have been brought down from the federal courts to the states by the Supreme Court and are in effect there.
A defendant in court may choose to not answer any questions or appear on the witness stand by pleading the Fifth. Pleading the Fifth is a process which can only be used in a criminal court. A clause in the Fifth Amendment, '[No person] ...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself', allows criminal defendants the right to not testify if they believe they will show themselves guilty by their testimony. The jury must not allow this refusal to testify on the part of a defendant to be a part of their decision of guilt or innocence.
Even if a person is innocent, a person may feel that his testimony may be perceived in a twisted way and may harm him later so he can refuse to answer questions. Of course, by invoking the Fifth Amendment, a defendant usually gives the perception that he has something to hide or is guilty.
In a criminal case, witnesses may also use the right to plead the fifth without being thought guilty of a criminal offense. In a 2001 Supreme Court case, the Court stated that 'a witness may have a reasonable fear of prosecution and yet be innocent of any wrongdoing. In a civil case, if a witness doesn't want to answer questions, a jury may keep that in mind when deciding the case. Such witnesses may use the phrase 'I don't recall.' Witnesses in civil cases may choose to answer some questions and not others.
A witness must testify on any matters regarding the defendant in a case criminal unless the facts would also incriminate him. No one can force him to testify on matters regarding his own actions. He cannot choose to answer just some questions and not others. Once he agrees to be on the witness stand, he gives up the right to remain silent.
The right against self-incrimination doesn't hold for the evidence submitted to the court regarding DNA, blood and breath tests and fingerprints. A defendant must submit to providing samples to the court. These are not protected by the Fifth Amendment.
In a Senate hearing, people often plead the Fifth. That is because, even though the Senate is not a court, what those testifying say could in the future be used against them in a criminal matter. The right of being protected from self-incrimination doesn't apply to corporations.
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