The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects every American’s right against self-incrimination, also known as the right to remain silent. This right is essential to protecting people from being forced into false or coerced confessions by law enforcement. However, there are benefits and risks to invoking your Fifth Amendment rights, and you should know them before you invoke it.
Explaining the Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination
Under the Fifth Amendment, anyone can invoke their right against self-incrimination in any situation where they may reasonably face criminal consequences for what they say. This, obviously, includes the right to refrain from testifying against yourself in court. It also includes the right to avoid speaking to the police in any case where you may be suspected of potential criminal activity.
The Pros of Invoking the Fifth Amendment
The potential advantages of invoking the Fifth Amendment are fairly obvious. First, if you refuse to testify against yourself or give a confession, they cannot use your words to try to convict you of a crime. In addition, prosecutors cannot legally use your invocation of your Fifth Amendment rights against you in court, and the jury is advised to do the same. It can also protect you from having to testify if you believe you would not make a good witness for yourself.
The Cons of Invoking the Fifth Amendment
That said, sometimes it can be to your benefit to testify on your own behalf. For some people, for example, it can help to build sympathy in a jury that otherwise might be biased against you. In addition, you may have unique information that can exonerate you from your criminal charges, which only you can potentially testify to. However, if you choose to testify in court, you cannot exercise your Fifth Amendment rights to testify only when it is convenient. The moment you get on the witness stand, you put yourself at the risk of a full prosecutorial examination.
Using the Fifth Amendment Strategically
Ultimately, the decision to exercise your Fifth Amendment rights is one that needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, it is best to err on the side of exercising your rights, because you can always choose to speak more later. However, the best way to know what works best for you is to contact a lawyer with knowledge of criminal defense, who can best advise you on how to handle your criminal case.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.