The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees you the right not to say anything that may be used to connect you to a crime that has already been committed.
Pleading the Fifth: Your Legal Rights in Criminal Court
Using the Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees you the right not to say anything that might incriminate you or connect you to a crime that has already been committed. You have the right to decline to answer any questions posed to you in this respect, and you are always free to refuse to provide information. This is also known as the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. When someone “pleads the Fifth,” whether in criminal process or in humour, they are claiming the right not to be condemned by their own statements (or make themselves vulnerable to condemnation).
The Fifth Amendment is perhaps most powerfully used in criminal trials, since a criminal defendant always has the right to decline to testify before the court. If a defendant is adamantly opposed to testifying in his own trial, no judge, jury, prosecution, or even the defendant’s own counsel can compel him to do so. If the defendant chooses to plead the Fifth, the jury is not allowed to consider it during their deliberations. However, if the defendant chooses to testify in his trial, it is typically assumed that he has waived his right against self-incrimination, and he will be obliged to answer questions like any other witness.
Alternatively, witnesses may plead the Fifth Amendment by refusing to answer certain questions while testifying in another person’s trial if they fear the answers would incriminate them. This is because, unlike a defendant, witnesses may be compelled to testify in court by a subpoena – but this should not deprive them of their right to plead the Fifth.
It should be noted that the right against self-incrimination only applies to speech and not to other information that might lead to self-incrimination. By claiming the Fifth, a suspect brought into police custody may not refuse to be fingerprinted, nor may he deny a DNA test or anything else of the type. The Fifth Amendment gives only the right to stay quiet, not immunity.