The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states clearly that no one can be compelled to provide evidence or bear witness against themselves in a criminal case. In other words, if the police ask you if you committed a crime and answering openly would incriminate you, the choice to remain silent is an acceptable alternative option.
This actually ties directly into your "Miranda rights" or the "Miranda warning" that every law enforcement officer has to state when making an arrest. You might be familiar with how this goes due to popular crime television dramas: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney during any questioning."
Why are your Fifth Amendment rights so important, though? What really do they do, and when should they be used?
Pleading the Fifth: Pros & Cons
When someone "pleads the Fifth", they are stating that they do not wish to answer to any questioning for fear of saying something that could be self-incriminating. One advantage of using your Fifth Amendment rights is that it gives you time to collect your thoughts and keeps you immune from stressful and unlawful police questioning during your arrest. There are countless cases of people who are 100% innocent of the crime in question looking suspicious and appearing guilty because they said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Invoking the Fifth Amendment puts a stop to these unfortunate slips of the tongue altogether. Just stay respectfully quiet and wait for your attorney before you talk. Remember: the burden of proof for an alleged crime falls on the prosecution, not the defense.
An interesting potential downside to using the Fifth Amendment and zipping your lips is that it could be seen as a silent admission of guilt by jurors and judges. Although they are not supposed to take your silence to mean this, it is an assumption many people naturally make when someone absolutely refuses to talk about an incident. You also cannot use your Fifth Amendment rights in the face of just any line of questioning; information that would be arguably useless to the prosecution, or information that the prosecution should reasonably know about you already, such as your name or current address, typically cannot be withheld under Fifth Amendment rights.
Don't Overcomplicate Matters
If you have been arrested for an alleged criminal activity, overthinking about when you should or should not use your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent can lead to trouble. In most cases, the smart choice is to invoke it during your arrest and get legal help as soon as you can. If you live in Texas, contact our New Braunfels criminal defense attorneys from the Kyle Law Firm. From felonies to misdemeanors, we have the know-how and tenacity to protect your rights during any criminal case, and we can take the guesswork out of your defense. Schedule your free initial consultation with us today to begin.