Self Incrimination

Self incrimination is making a statement that accuses oneself of a criminal offense that may lead to criminal prosecution now or in the future. Self-incrimination may occur directly or indirectly. Directly means that the suspect made a self-incriminating statement while being interrogated, while indirectly means that a statement was made voluntarily without pressure from someone else.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the right to refuse to answer questions or make statements that are self incriminating. If someone says at trial “I plead the Fifth,” it means that he or she is invoking the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.

The Fifth Amendment also gives the defendant the right not to testify during a criminal trial. The judge, prosecutor and even the defendant’s attorney may not force the defendant to testify. In addition, should the defendant decide not to take the witness stand, the jury may not hold it against him or her when deciding the verdict of the case.

If the defendant does choose to take the stand, his or her Fifth Amendment rights are considered to be waived and he or she must answer all questions asked by the attorneys.

Witnesses are allowed to plead the Fifth during testimony if the answer would implicate him or her in any crime. This is because, unlike the defendant, a witness may be forced or subpoenaed to testify.

The Fifth Amendment right does not only apply during a trial. In Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers must inform a suspect of his or her right to remain silent and to get a lawyer before conducting an interrogation. These are known as Miranda Rights.

Contrary to popular belief, the Miranda Rights do not have to be read after every arrest. Unless the officer is going to question the subject, he or she does not have to inform the suspect of these rights. Therefore, if a self incriminating statement is voluntarily made, it may be admissible in court. Self incriminating statements made before an arrest may also be used as evidence during the trial.