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What does it mean for me to plead the fifth?

Being arrested for a crime is never an easy situation to find yourself in, regardless of your circumstances. You might not know what to expect. You could be worried about how you will be treated. You also might get so nervous that you simply begin talking about what happened. Under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you have the right to plead the fifth so that you don't incriminate yourself.

One of the most important things you need to know about pleading the fifth is that if your case reaches trial, you do not have to testify if you choose not to do so. This means that the prosecution cannot force you to testify. The judge cannot force you to testify. Your own defense attorney cannot force you to testify. The decision of whether or not to testify in court is completely up to you based on the Fifth Amendment.

You need to know that if you actually take the stand, then you cannot pick and choose what questions you will answer. The minute you get on the stand and take the oath, you are waiving your right to plead the fifth for the first and every subsequent time you are called to the stand. When on the stand, a judge will force you to answer questions or place you in contempt of court.

If you are a defendant in a civil trial, you are legally allowed to plead the fifth in this trial too, especially if you believe it might open you to criminal charges. A jury in a criminal trial is instructed to ignore when a defendant pleads the fifth and not take it into consideration when deliberating for a verdict.

It's important for you to understand your civil rights before you find yourself in handcuffs or in the back of a police cruiser. Knowing your rights will make it easier for you and prevent you from incriminating yourself before you can talk to your attorney.

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Sivin & Miller, LLP Attorneys at Law
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