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Should I plead the fifth when facing criminal charges?

One question that might cross your mind as you contemplate possible defense tactics is if you should plead the fifth. Regardless of the criminal charges you face, you have a constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination by remaining silent. You might believe you have to answer every question law enforcement asks, but the only information you must provide is information that identifies who you are, such as your name, date of birth and address. 

During your arrest and trial, you might feel an overwhelming need to offer explanations to law enforcement and the courts. You might also feel like sharing your story with cellmates, friends and family. It is important for you to realize that anything you say might become evidence used to convict you. It does not matter if you are guilty of the charges that are pending against you or not, it can be beneficial for you to plead the fifth

Words can become evidence

You must understand that the prosecution is likely to use the things you say to secure a conviction. Once you say things that could potentially lead to an undesirable outcome, you cannot take them back or pretend you never said them. Pleading the fifth allows you to protect yourself by saying nothing. Regardless of the questions asked, once you exercise the right to remain silent, you keep your mouth closed for all questions.

Prevents self-incrimination

Keep in mind that until you say you plead the fifth and stay silent, everything you say and do is admissible in court as evidence. Pleading the fifth does not offer protection for your actions, only your words. The moment you utter the phrase “I plead the fifth,” its protections go into place. Even if law enforcement or the prosecution bombards you with questions, you do not have to say a word. 

A word of caution: You should not use the right to avoid self-incrimination lightly. In the criminal justice system, you are innocent until proven guilty. Pleading the fifth may bring about suspicions of guilt, which can affect your case if it goes to jury trial. You might find it beneficial to speak with an attorney for guidance about using your constitutional rights as part of your defense.

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