Gibson Law Group - September 2023

Silence Is Golden: A Guide to Understanding the Fifth Amendment

is part of your Sixth Amendment right: You can remain silent and refuse to give any statements until you receive counsel.

Almost everyone knows what it means to “plead the Fifth.” We hear it often in the news, crime TV series, and all of the best mobster movies. When you plead the Fifth, you’re exercising your right granted by the Fifth Amendment to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. While this is your constitutional right, there are actually times when you are obligated to speak. Before you zip your mouth shut, you’ll need to learn when you should and shouldn’t plead the Fifth. What do you need to share with authorities? While you have the right to remain silent, there are a few questions you are legally required to answer. In most states, it’s the law that when a cop pulls you over and asks you to identify yourself, you have to answer. Even if the law doesn’t apply to the state you live in, it’s safe to simply provide your name, address, and date of birth. Another piece of information required when authorities pull you over is your license and registration. If you were pulled over by officers for a valid reason, you have to hand over your documents to them. Other than these two scenarios, you don’t have to answer any further questions. Anything you say to the authorities can be used against you, and the last thing you need is for a few poorly thought-out answers to land you in court. When is it best to stay silent? Because your words can be used against you, it’s in your best interest to stay silent until you are able to speak to your attorney. Once you have them by your side, they can speak for you and ensure that whatever they say protects you from incrimination. This

Will pleading the Fifth make you look guilty? Some people worry that pleading the Fifth will make the police and others who may hear about their case believe that they are guilty and have something to hide. This conception likely comes from the media, which tends to only mention the Fifth Amendment in extreme cases.

“Anything you say to the authorities can be used against you, and the last thing you need is for a few poorly thought-out answers to land you in court.”

For example, you might remember reading about Michaele and Tareq Salahi, a couple who snuck past the United States Secret Service and crashed a state dinner at the White House in late 2009. They famously plead the Fifth more than 30 times during questioning by a House committee. At the time, ABC News wrote an unflattering article on the topic called “White House Crashers Remain Silent.” Though stories like the Salahi’s may make it seem otherwise, pleading the Fifth is not an admission of guilt. While many may think those who invoke this right are guilty, in legal matters, they can’t be assumed guilty just because they refuse to answer. There have been countless cases where innocent people implicated themselves in an investigation simply because they said the wrong thing or didn’t choose their words wisely enough. No matter how many “Law & Order” episodes you’ve seen, you’re not a legal expert, and you should always err on the side of caution. The best way to remain innocent is to keep your rambles to yourself and leave it to your attorney to speak on your behalf. Silence is golden!

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