What does it mean to plead the Fifth?

On Behalf of | Mar 24, 2021 | criminal defense

As someone who the state accuses of a crime, you are in a relatively precarious position. Your rights are at stake. 

The government has a large amount of power. However, you have civil rights to offset this. One of those rights comes from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 

What is the Fifth Amendment?

As explained by the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, the Fifth Amendment provides various types of federal protections against the power of police and courts. Certain of these rights extend to the state court systems. 

One of the most notable, and the one that concerns this discussion, is your right to avoid self-incrimination. Specifically, the state cannot compel you to bear witness against yourself in any criminal case. 

What is pleading the Fifth?

The term “pleading the Fifth” comes from something of a popular, dramatic fantasy. In the context of real-world trials, you would probably not utter this phrase in the context of a cross-examination or any such procedure — things do not usually happen in real courtrooms as they do on television. 

Instead, if you decided to exercise your Fifth-Amendment rights, you would probably refrain from testifying entirely. Unlike many other types of witnesses, as a defendant, you could make this choice. In exchange, you would probably not have the opportunity to offer testimony on your own behalf. 

As a criminal defendant, silence might be able to protect your rights both inside and outside of the courtroom. In addition to not incriminating yourself during official trial proceedings, you would come out under most circumstances, have the right to remain silent during and after your arrest. This period of silence could help you understand your charges and build the most effective strategy possible to protect your future.