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What should I know about pleading the fifth?

The U.S. Constitution spells out important rights that prevent people from incriminating themselves while being charged with a crime. One of those rights is commonly discussed in today’s news stories, and is known as “pleading the fifth.” Understanding how this right works is imperative if you should be arrested by a California police officer and face criminal charges.

As FindLaw explains, “pleading the fifth” refers to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment states that a person cannot be compelled to be a witness against himself. The U.S. Supreme Court specified in the 1966 Miranda decision that a person being arrested must be notified by police that he or she may remain silent and choose not to answer questions.

The Fifth Amendment also applies to the courtroom. No prosecutor, judge, or even your own legal counsel can compel you to take the stand if you do not wish to. This is an important decision to make, since if you do take the stand, you are considered to have waived your Fifth Amendment protections for the duration of the trial. Additionally, if you take the stand, you cannot be selective in the questions you want to answer.

You should not fear that invoking your right against self-incrimination will make you look guilty before a jury. A jury will not be allowed to include your refusal to testify as a factor while deciding a verdict. It is the duty of the prosecution to prove that you are guilty of the charges. It is not your duty to establish your innocence by your own testimony.

Invoking your Fifth Amendment rights can involve many other questions, all of which a qualified criminal defense attorney can help address. Because criminal defense matters vary so widely, this article should not be taken as legal advice, and should be read for educational purposes only.

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