3 ways the Fifth Amendment protects criminal defendants

Many American adults don’t really understand the different Constitutional Amendments included in the Bill of Rights. They know that many of these civil rights impact what happens to those accused of crimes but couldn’t tell you which Amendments specifically apply in criminal cases.

Still, most Americans know at least a little about the Fifth Amendment. Anyone who has watched a movie or television show with a dramatic criminal trial may have heard someone “plead the Fifth” during the criminal proceedings.

Obviously, the Fifth Amendment plays a crucial role in the protection of those facing criminal allegations. How does the Fifth Amendment protect those accused of a crime? 

The Fifth Amendment forbids compulsory self-incrimination

This is the reason most people know about the Fifth Amendment. Someone asked a leading question during a criminal trial could potentially plead the Fifth Amendment. This basically means that they have invoked their right against self-incrimination.

A defendant does not have to answer certain questions that they believe would affect their legal case. In fact, the Fifth Amendment applies to any witness testifying in court, not just a criminal defendant. The state cannot compel someone to make statements that would implicate them in a criminal offense. 

The Fifth Amendment prevents Double Jeopardy

The Fifth Amendment doesn’t just state that the government cannot force someone to testify against themselves in court. It also clearly states that the government cannot try the same person twice for the same criminal offense.

The so-called Double Jeopardy rule protects those accused of a crime from facing repeated charges stemming from the same incident. If the state fails to successfully prosecute someone, they cannot charge that defendant again for the same incident. 

The Fifth Amendment establishes the need for grand jury indictment

Someone accused of a serious offense, including capital crimes and other infamous criminal activity, has the right to indictment by a grand jury. In other words, the state cannot bring charges against an individual until they have collected enough evidence to convince the grand jury that something criminal occurred and involved the potential defendant.

Knowing your various rights will make it easier for you to protect yourself when facing criminal charges.