Who Can Plead the Fifth? 

 April 1, 2015

By  LMW Attorneys

Chances are you have heard someone say, “I plead the Fifth,” while being interrogated in the court of law—but do you know what the phrase really means? The idiom, which has been popularized by television shows such as CSI and the like, refers to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

As with all of the Amendments, it is important to understand what the Fifth Amendment is and what it entails, as it could help you in a court of law. Learn everything you need to know about the Fifth Amendment, here:

What is the Fifth Amendment?

The Fifth Amendment is a section of the Bill of Rights and became a part of the U.S. Constitution on December 5, 1791. The Fifth Amendment was created to protect individuals from being held for a crime, unless properly indicted by the police.

The Fifth Amendment reads as follows:

“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.”

So What Does It Mean to “Plead the Fifth”?

When someone pleads the Fifth, they are invoking their Fifth Amendment rights and are essentially refusing to testify. This means that they cannot be forced to testify against themselves during a trial or other proceedings. An individual who does not want to incriminate him or herself usually pleads the Fifth. By invoking this right, no one—think judges, prosecutors, and lawyers—will be able to force the individual to testify.

It is important to note that once an individual takes the witness stand, he or she essentially waives their rights for the duration of the trial. This means that they cannot refuse to answer questions or “plead the Fifth” during the trial. If they do attempt to do so, they may face serious repercussions.

When can’t you “Plead the Fifth?”

When a criminal case is over, whether by conviction (after appeal) or a finding of “not guilty”, the 5th Amendment no longer applies, and the person can be compelled to testify. This is often the case when a criminal defendant has been charged with DUI following an accident, and is also being sued civilly by the victim. While the DUI case is pending, the defendant can rely on the 5th Amendment; but once the DUI case is over, he must testify about the facts giving rise to the accident. Additionally, the prosecutors can grant someone immunity from prosecution in order to secure their testimony. In this case, once again the person subpoenaed cannot “take the 5th.”

When to Hire an Attorney

If you are facing legal troubles, it is important to understand your rights and to have an experienced attorney on your side to guide you through this undoubtedly stressful situation. The team at Laporte, Mulligan & Werner-Watkins is dedicated to defending your rights and can guide you through this trying time. For more information on our practice, click here, or contact us today to schedule a free consultation.