Legal Dictionary

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Fifth Amendment

Adopted in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution contains several important clauses that protect people against harsh governmental authority. Many of these guarantees relate to procedures governing the prosecution of criminal offenses. The Fifth Amendment requires that:

  • No person shall be held to answer for a capital (death penalty), or otherwise infamous (felony) crime unless a grand jury issues an indictment or presentment
  • No person shall be tried or punished twice for the same offense (Double Jeopardy)
  • No person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself in any criminal case
  • No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law
  • No person shall be deprived of property for public use, without just compensation.

Although the above-mentioned rights are protected by the Fifth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment is often associated with the privilege against self-incrimination. When people say that they "Take the Fifth" or "Plead the Fifth" this is an alternate way of saying that the person asserts the privilege to avoid testifying against himself or herself. The privilege against self-incrimination not only applies in criminal cases but to any testimony that might lead to criminal prosecution or might be used in a criminal prosecution.

If you have been charged with a crime and made statements to the police, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine whether your Fifth Amendment rights have been violated.