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Common Misconceptions About The Fifth Amendment


If you took a civics class in high school or passed the civics portion of the citizenship test to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, then you have a general idea about which Constitutional amendment does what.  A summary definition of the Fifth Amendment says that it protects against self-incrimination, but when was the last time you heard anyone use the phrase “self-incrimination” in a sentence?  The Fifth Amendment sets out some foundational concepts in criminal procedure, and understanding it well can help you exercise your rights if you are charged with a crime or suspected of one.  These are some common myths and facts about the Fifth Amendment.  To find out more, contact a West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer.

MYTH: The Fifth Amendment Only Protects You If You Say “I Plead the Fifth.”

FACT: According to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, agents of the federal and state governments do not have the right to coerce anyone into confessing to a crime.  The right to remain silent while you are under arrest also derives from the Fifth Amendment.  When you have a lawyer present during questioning, as you have the right to do, your lawyer can counsel you on which questions you should answer and which ones you should refuse to answer by pleading the Fifth.

MYTH: Only Defendants Can Plead the Fifth.

FACT: Anyone can plead the Fifth Amendment when they are in a situation where it would be against the law for them to lie and where a law enforcement officer or prosecutor is asking them questions.  Defendants can plead the Fifth during trials and grand jury proceedings, but so can witnesses.  You can even plead the Fifth in preliminary investigations where no one has been charged, as well as in trials and hearings related to civil cases.  In other words, you have the right not to reveal information that could be used as evidence against you in a criminal case.

MYTH: There Are No Situations Where Prosecutors Can Require You to Speak About Your Illegal Actions.

FACT: Prosecutors can require you to answer questions about criminal activities in which you were involved, but only if they grant you immunity, which means that they promise not to use your testimony as evidence to charge you with a crime.  Prosecutors do this when they need the defendant’s testimony as evidence in an ongoing investigation or criminal case against the defendant’s co-conspirators.  Immunity from some or all criminal charges is often a feature of plea deals in cases related to conspiracy to commit drug trafficking or financial crimes.  Prosecutors cannot force you to accept a plea deal, and you always have the right to negotiate for a better plea deal or to go to trial.

Contact a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Attorney William Wallshein has more than 38 years of experience, including five years as a prosecutor in Palm Beach County.  Contact William Wallshein P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida to discuss your case.



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