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What does it mean to plead the Fifth in a criminal trial?

The term "plead the Fifth" is one that is often heard on law dramas on television. This term has a very important meaning in the criminal justice system. Essentially, it means that you aren't required to say anything that might incriminate you in a crime.

What is the basis for pleading the Fifth?

Pleading the Fifth means that you are exercising your right to avoid self-incrimination. That right is set by the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment. This right is upheld in a variety of legal proceedings.

How do I plead the Fifth?

You can simply say that you plead the Fifth. You must understand that pleading the fifth is a blanket display of your rights. It means that once you plead the Fifth, you can't pick and choose which questions you will answer. Pleading the Fifth means that the judge, the prosecutor, and your lawyer cannot force you to testify against your will.

What is the effect of pleading the fifth?

If you are in a jury trial and plead the Fifth, the jury can't consider that fact when they are deciding if you are guilty or innocent. The Supreme Court upheld this with a note that innocent defendants might plead the Fifth if they are fearful of prosecution. In a criminal proceeding, witnesses can plead the fifth on a question-by-question basis if they are fearful that their answers might lead them to criminal charges.

You must ensure that you understand all of your rights when you are facing criminal charges. This will allow you to decide your actions while you face the charges.

Source: FindLaw, "Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination," accessed Dec. 24, 2015

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Hertel Law, S.C.
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