If you have ever watched a crime show, you have probably watched a scene during which a person is answering questions either in an interrogation or on the stand in a courtroom. The prosecution may ask a question to which the defendant may reply, “I plead the Fifth.” This is not just entertaining television — the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is real, and it may be important for you to understand more about it.

As a citizen of the United States, the Fifth Amendment protects you from having to incriminate yourself. This means you do not have to act as a witness against yourself for the benefit of the prosecution. This is an important right, one that you can yield in the event that you find yourself facing criminal charges.

What does this mean for you? 

You may have seen someone plead the Fifth on television, but in a real trial and in a real criminal case, there are only certain ways you can do this. If you are facing the prospect of a trial or simply want to know more about your rights as a defendant, it may be helpful for you to understand the following:

  • Under the Fifth Amendment, you have the right not to testify if you do not want to do so. This means the judge, or any lawyer involved with the case, cannot force you to answer questions.
  • If you plead the Fifth, you are recusing yourself from answering all questions. This means that you cannot answer some questions but not others.
  • Juries have instructions not to allow a defendant’s use of the Fifth to factor into deliberations regarding the defendant’s innocence or guilt.
  • In a trial, other witnesses besides the defendant also have the right to use the Fifth Amendment so that they will not implicate themselves in a crime.

The Fifth Amendment is an important constitutional right, yet, choosing to yield this right could have implications for your case. It is wise to discuss your defense strategy and best course of action with your Florida defense attorney before making important decisions that could affect the outcome. 

When facing criminal charges of any kind, your future and your personal freedom is on the line. It is in your best interests to seek help as soon as possible after an arrest or the start of a criminal investigation. It would be wise to protect yourself, starting with developing a strong defense strategy to effectively confront the prosecution’s case.