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The 5th Amendment: What Does it Mean for You?

Everyone has heard the phrase “I plead the fifth” in courtroom dramas but what does it really mean?

This important amendment to our Constitution signed into law by Congress in 1791 states:

“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. “

Our Fifth Amendment on the Bill of Rights protects citizens against having to bear witness against themselves in criminal trials. You have the right to keep quiet and not provide any incriminating evidence or information that might get you into trouble with the law.

The Double Jeopardy Clause within the 5th Amendment also protects you against being tried for the same crime twice.

The 5th Amendment in History

Congressmen James Madison penned a draft in June of 1789, which later became the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Before Congress ratified it, they made some edits to the original language. The new addition to the Bill of Rights included four additional clauses along with the Double Jeopardy Clause, they are named the Grand Jury Clause, Self-Incrimination Clause, Due Process Clause, and the Takings Clause.

The Grand Jury Clause allows each U.S. citizens to a grand jury trial in specific types of cases. The Self-Incrimination Clause protects you from having to provide information, which may get you into trouble. The Takings Clause allows the government in some situations to take property and assets as part of eminent domain law. The Due process clause ensures that specific rules are followed so that justice is carried out fairly according to the law.

The 5th Amendment Nowadays – Your Rights

Although envisioned 227 years ago the 5th Amendment is still as relevant today as it was back then. Under the Fifth Amendment you as a United States citizen can enjoy the following rights:

  1. The right to a grand jury for your case especially for capital offenses.
  2. Fair payment for land or property that the government seizes due to eminent domain laws to build new roads or engage in eco-protection. The government must have reasonable cause before they infringe upon any property you own.
  3. You cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Even if you are found not guilty and new evidence surfaces, you cannot be tried again.
  4. You also have the right to remain silent and not provide any information that can incriminate you or affect the outcome of your case. The Miranda rights that every criminal is read when arrested is directly related to this amendment. You also cannot be forced to testify against yourself in a court of law.
  5. You are protected by due process and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Famous Cases

Mark McGwire (2005)

The infamous St. Louis Cardinal’s player was subpoenaed to testify about steroid use in professional baseball, and he pleaded the fifth to protect his own interests. Due to his impressive 70 hit season in 1998, he was suspected of steroid use but repeatedly used the Fifth Amendment to protect himself during the investigation.

Miranda v. Arizona (1966)

This notable case resulted in the Miranda laws and warning that law enforcement is required to read to every criminal upon arrest. Chief Justice Earl Warren presided over this case and changed history.

Ashcraft v. Tennessee (1944)

After Tennessee police brutally interrogated a suspect for 38 hours then coerced him to sign a confession, this case was born. The Supreme Court’s Justice Black overturned the conviction and made a lasting impression with his ruling.

The Fifth Amendment is an essential part of our history and our government process, and it protects U.S. citizens every day.