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Know how it works when you ‘plead the Fifth’

On Behalf of | May 3, 2019 | Criminal Law

Almost every American adult probably knows that he or she can “plead the Fifth” and rely on his or her Constitutional right against self-incrimination. However, there are some rules that go along with relying on that Fifth Amendment that you should understand in order to fully protect yourself.

1. You have the right to rely on the Fifth during any police questioning

Your right against self-incrimination doesn’t kick in just when you are in police custody or at trial. Aside from your basic identifying information, you can politely refuse to answer any police questions, and your refusal to answer cannot be used as evidence of your guilt, the basis for a warrant or other retaliation. Don’t wait to invoke your rights until after the handcuffs come out and you hear the Miranda warning.

2. You are the only person who can decide if you’ll testify in your own defense

You cannot be forced to take the stand at your own criminal trial. Nor can you be denied the right to speak in your own defense if you want to testify. That being said, it’s likely that your criminal defense attorney will have some feelings about the matter based on your situation — so consider your options carefully.

3. A refusal to testify in your own defense cannot be held against you

If you choose not to testify at your own trial, the jury is not supposed to consider that evidence of your guilt or factor it into their deliberations — although it is likely some jurors may quietly wonder why you didn’t take the stand.

4. Your right against self-incrimination does not equal the right to lie

If you do choose to speak to police during interrogation or get on the witness stand, you can’t lie. That’s obstruction of justice in an investigation and perjury during a trial. Those are crimes in their own right.

5. If you do choose to testify, you can’t decide what questions not to answer

When it comes to your right to speak in your own defense at a trial, it’s either “all in or all out.” You can’t just testify under the gentle questioning of your own attorney. You also have to face the prosecution’s questions.

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