The Fifth Amendment Is More Than “Pleading the Fifth”

The Fifth Amendment Is More Than Pleading the Fifth

( – When most Americans hear “Fifth Amendment,” they probably think of the phrase “I plead the Fifth!” in reference to the section concerning serving as a witness against yourself. But this amendment is about much more than that. It holds some of the most significant rules to protect citizens against an unjust or corrupt government.

Federal Felonies

“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”

The first part of the Fifth Amendment refers to federal felonies. It also sets limits on who does and doesn’t have to go through a grand jury. Those charged in the service of the military or militia don’t necessarily have to go through this process; they’re most likely to undergo court martial instead. A grand jury is not a trial jury and does not acquit or convict. It’s still made up of peers, but they decide whether or not an indictment should be served.

A capital crime is a serious offense that could lead to life imprisonment. Putting the potential for an indictment in their hands serves two purposes. It prevents a backlog of cases that shouldn’t have gone to trial in the federal courts, and it prevents prosecutors in the Department of Justice from playing favorites and charging or not charging someone with crimes that should or should not be tried.

Double Jeopardy

“…nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…”

This section is commonly referred to as “double jeopardy.” No defendant can be tried twice for the same offense. But, there are exceptions to this rule. If there’s a mistrial, and the person on trial consents to another trial, they can be tried again. The only exception is manifest necessity — a situation beyond the control of the court — such as when a witness disappears. Acquittals cannot be retried, and convictions can only be appealed, not retried. In many cases, prosecutors simply force a new charge in order to get the conviction they want, since they can’t retry the defendant.

Protection of Self and Property

“…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.”

This is the most well-known section, involving “pleading the Fifth.” No one can be forced to testify against themselves, though, they may be put on the stand. Whether it’s during questioning outside of a trial or during a trial, anyone can plead the Fifth to avoid speaking against themselves.

Americans also have the ability to retain personal freedom and property rights, unless within the bounds of due process. In other words, evidence can be taken, but no one has the legal right to take or harm an American or their property without following the process that guides the US legal system. This applies in cases of land as well, but this section is more about eminent domain. For instance, if the government needs to make use of your land for the greater good, such as may be the case with road construction, they can have the land, as long as they give you fair and just compensation for it.

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