When used informally, the term “pleading the Fifth” simply mean “I would rather not answer you” for the sake of not admitting anything, why? The Supreme Court has upheld a person’s right to invoke their Fifth Amendment right the term comes from the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees a defendant’s right not to provide any information or self-incriminating testimony when arrested or during a criminal case.
Whether you’ve heard the phrase being tossed around in criminal court shows or cop TV, but what most people don’t fully realize that it’s your constitutional right to plead the Fifth and that you can, by law, excuse yourself from answering a question, when it could incriminate you typically, when facing criminal charges. The Fifth Amendment in the Constitution clearly outlines that no one can be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself without due process of law, or what’s known as the privilege against self-incrimination.
This holds true for ordinary civil and criminal cases and in this case, invoking your Fifth Amendment right, as outlined by the US constitution means that if the evidence produced in any way, shape or form eventually be used against you in a criminal case, it’s your right to stay silent as it were. Unfortunately, since it’s assumed innocent people should have nothing to hide, one of the enigmas of pleading the Fifth is that by so doing it tends to raise suspicions of guilt. Additionally, according to the U.S. Constitution, you can’t be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against yourself, therefore, the 5th also does give criminal perpetrators the right to refuse to testify at trial.
If you are facing criminal charges your attorney has probably told you that pleading the fifth may be necessary to protect yourself as a defendant in a civil trial, but not without risk because unlike a criminal, a jury may make their own conclusions if you choose not to testify. A witness, on the other hand, can assert their Fifth Amendment right and refuse to answer any question if they fear their testimony will incriminate them, although this does mean that they won’t testify because subpoenaed witnesses must give evidence. In most cases, prosecutors may offer you as the witness immunity in exchange for your testimony, meaning that you can’t be charged for any incriminating statements you make while testifying.
Of course, your attorney should point out that the protection of invoking the 5th is far from a blanket, for example, if you are facing criminal charges, you can’t plead the fifth when objecting to:
- The collection of DNA
- When the court needs your fingerprint
- Or during the collection of encrypted digital evidence
Before testifying as a criminal defendant or witness, ensure that you have a professional attorney who will advise you on all the options of protecting yourself against self-incrimination.