The 5th Amendment

An Explanation of the Text, Origins, and Meaning

Gavel on U.S Constitution
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Text of Amendment:

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 offence 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 Indictment by a Grand Jury:

Nobody can go to trial for a serious crime, except in a military setting, without first being indicted by a grand jury.

Double Jeopardy:

The 5th Amendment also mandates that defendants, once acquitted on a charge, may not be tried again for the same offense at the same jurisdictional level. Defendants may be tried again if the previous trial ended in a mistrial or hung jury, if there is evidence of fraud in the previous trial, or if the charges are not precisely the same--for example, the police officers who beat Rodney King, after being acquitted on state charges, were convicted on federal charges for the same offense.

Pleading the Fifth:

The best-known clause in the 5th Amendment ("No person ... shall be compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against himself") protects suspects from forced self-incrimination.

When a suspect invokes his or her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, this is referred to in the vernacular as "pleading the Fifth." It should not by any means be taken as a sign of guilt, but it is generally portrayed as such in courtroom television dramas.

The Miranda Rule:

Just because a suspect has rights doesn't mean that a suspect knows about those rights.

Officers have often used, and sometimes still use, a suspect's ignorance regarding his or her own civil rights to build a case. This all changed with Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Supreme Court case that created the statement officers are now required to issue upon arrest--beginning with the words "You have the right to remain silent..."

Property Rights and the Takings Clause:

The final clause of the 5th Amendment protects basic property rights; under this clause, referred to as the takings clause, the government can't simply claim eminent domain and take a citizen's property. Recent developments, however--most notably Kelo v. New London (2005) — have weakened the takings clause considerably.