The Sanders Firm, P.C.: Self-Incrimination and Your Civil Rights
We at The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York City believe that it is essential that each of us in the United States
understands what self-incrimination is and how we can protect ourselves. Self-incrimination is the act of giving
witness against yourself after being accused of a committing a crime. The Fifth Amendment to the United States
Constitution and similar provisions in the constitutions of the states protect us from self-incrimination.
Although self-incrimination originally applied only to a person during a criminal case, its protections have
broadened to include other circumstances. The basic tenant regarding this civil right is that one cannot be
forced to bear witness against himself or herself.
Fifth Amendment Text
The Fifth Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, considers our rights when charged with a crime, and the manner in which the government may attempt to prove its charges. The focus is on “due process of law” and the manner in which a case must proceed.
The text of the Fifth Amendment states, “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.”
The phrase, “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” is the one that prohibits self-incrimination.
Government’s Burden of Proof
In criminal cases, the government must prove the charges against the defendant. The defendant is in no way obligated and nor can they be forced to help the government prove their case. The term commonly used in reference to the prohibition of self-incrimination is “to plead the Fifth.”
In other words, a defendant on the witness stand when asked to answer a question that could offer evidence to the government may invoke the Fifth Amendment, saying that they cannot answer the question because in doing so they may incriminate themselves. Although some people see this as an admission of guilt (it may not be taken so by a jury), it is not. The defendant is merely exercising their civil right not to assist the government with proving their case.
Focus on Self-Incrimination
In this section focusing self-incrimination, The Sanders Firm, P.C. will consider it in connection with law enforcement and public employment. Please read these pages carefully if you have concerns about self-incrimination and your rights.
The fact that we cannot be forced to give witness against ourselves is an important aspect of our freedom. If you have incriminated yourself, through force or trickery, your civil rights may have been violated. For more information on self-incrimination and your rights under the United States Constitution, contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York City. We are your voice for justice.