Law enforcement officials have months and years to build cases and ask for charges, but an everyday person can quite suddenly find themselves sitting across from skilled investigators asking questions, or taking the stand against an attorney with decades of training and experience.
This power dynamic is one reason why the Fifth Amendment exists. In this blog, we will discuss some of the protections people have during police interrogations, and what it means to say, “I plead the Fifth.”
Taking the stand
The Fifth Amendment grants many rights to defendants, or people formally accused of a crime. If someone finds themselves forced to testify, the person retains constitutional rights, like the right to refuse to give self-incriminating testimony (i.e., the right granted by the Fifth Amendment).
So, if during a trial or deposition someone states, “I plead the Fifth,” the essence of the statement is that “I do not have to give the prosecution any information to help prove I did the alleged crime.”
You still have rights during questioning
If you are taken to a police station or questioned by police somewhere else, you may be unsure of what to say. And, that is okay. You do not have to participate in police investigations or answer questions. The Fifth Amendment allows you the right to say that you would rather not answer any questions without an attorney present, or to invoke your right to remain silent.
If you are under arrest, you should be mirandized, or read your rights, but you also need to remember your rights and use them. You can remain silent when police question you.
The bottom line is you do not have to help police or district attorneys by giving them statements or testimony to build a criminal case or prosecute you or anyone else.