In both criminal and civil legal proceedings, the term, “I plead the fifth” may come up. But what does “I plead the fifth” mean? If you have ever witnessed an arrest or seen one on television, you have likely heard a police officer or member of law enforcement say the phrase, “You have the right to remain silent,” to the person being arrested. In our article regarding rights police don’t want you to know, we highly recommend invoking this right. Here’s why.

Pleading the fifth means that you refuse to answer a question and are exercising your right to remain silent or provide information to police that might incriminate you while in custody or in court as covered by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

This is also referred to as the right against self-incrimination and is laid out in the Fifth Amendment, which is the law that allows you to “plead the fifth.” Get the details you need to know about pleading the fifth and how it can affect your case from Triple Board Certified Houston criminal lawyer Mark Thiessen from Thiessen Law Firm.

What is the fifth amendment?

In the U.S. Constitution, the Fifth Amendment focuses on the rights of the accused, due process of law, and related matters. 

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

In simpler terms, the Fifth Amendment guarantees:

  • The right to a grand jury: A citizen jury decides whether or not federal felony charges will be brought forth. 
  • Forbids “double jeopardy:” You cannot be tried for the same crime twice. 
  • Protects against self-incrimination: You can refuse to answer a question that could potentially make you look guilty. 

If you choose to say, “I plead the fifth“ you are exercising your rights laid out by the Fifth Amendment. However, pleading the fifth cannot get you out of any legal situation. 

When can you say “I plead the fifth?”

The fifth amendment can be invoked for your own protection throughout your experience with the criminal justice system — all the way from your initial traffic stop to an eventual trial. When a police officer pulls you over and asks you a question like “How much have you had to drink tonight?”, you can invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer the question. Similarly, you can invoke your Fifth Amendment rights during police questioning and remain silent. In fact, police are required to inform you of this right prior to any formal questioning. 

Myth debunked: Your charges will not be dismissed if a police officer forgets to read you your Miranda rights during your arrest. However, statements made during questioning can be deemed inadmissible if you were not made aware of your right to remain silent. See Miranda v. Arizona for more information.

If you, the defendant, are being charged with a crime and are asked to testify in court, you can plead the fifth. This would allow you to decline any questions where the answers might incriminate you. However, it is important to note that saying I plead the fifth” only protects you from having to take the stand and testify at your own trial. If you choose to take the stand and testify, you are now obligated to answer all questions. 

Pleading the fifth ultimately protects you from accidentally confessing to a crime –– so, if you are confident that you do NOT want to answer ANY questions on the witness stand, be sure to plead the fifth and request an attorney ASAP. 

Additionally, the fifth amendment does not protect you from reasonable questioning during an initial police stop. You are required to answer simple questions such as those required to confirm your identity and can be arrested for refusing to cooperate.

Can you go to jail if you plead the fifth?

You will not face any additional charges or penalties for exercising your Fifth Amendment rights. You have a right to say “I plead the fifth” to avoid testifying. However, pleading the fifth does not give you a free pass to avoid charges and skip trial –– if you fail to appear in court, you can be arrested.

Is pleading the fifth an admission of guilt?

Many defendants worry that choosing to remain silent makes them look automatically guilty. This is not true. If you plead the fifth, a prosecutor cannot argue to the jury that the defendant’s silence implies guilt. The DWI court process or trial, in general, can be a stressful and fearful time for many defendants, and choosing to not answer questions is not something that can be used as evidence against you at trial. 

However, juries are free to use your decision to plead the fifth when making their decision. Though it may not automatically incriminate you, it can look bad to a jury. In this case, defendants may prefer to use ignorant statements such as “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall” instead of pleading the fifth. 

Facing criminal charges? Plead the Fifth until you discuss your case with a trusted attorney from Thiessen Law Firm

Until you can get a lawyer in your corner, we recommend pleading the fifth and saying no more than is absolutely necessary while under investigation for a crime. Say “I plead the fifth” until you can speak to your attorney about your legal options. If you are facing criminal charges or have any questions regarding your Fifth Amendment rights, contact an attorney who you can trust to handle your case. For serious charges, you’ll need an aggressive attorney who won’t back down from a fight. You need Mark Thiessen.

Mark Thiessen, the founding attorney of Thiessen Law Firm, is a Triple Board-Certified criminal defense lawyer who has won many “Not Guilty” verdicts for his clients. As a top 100 Houston lawyer, Mark has proven himself an expert-level criminal defense attorney that can win your case.

Give Thiessen Law Firm a call at 713-864-9000 or fill out our online form today to get started.

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Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.