18. What is the 5th Amendment to the Constitution?
The 5th Amendment contains a number of protections for US Citizens. Specifically it protects against self-incrimination by individuals (not corporations). That is, an individual cannot be compelled to testify against herself. It prohibits subjecting an individual to double jeopardy for alleged criminal conduct. This means that the government cannot subject an individual to multiple prosecutions for the same activity. The 5th Amendment also requires the government to pay just compensation to individuals for property taken or appropriated for pubic use. This concept most frequently arises in cases of “eminent domain” (discussed in a subsequent chapter). Arguably, the most important protection, however, is the protection of an individual’s right against deprivation of “life, liberty, and property without due process of law.” This protection is known as the “Federal Due Process Clause”. It assures the protection of citizen’s substantive and procedural rights in the passage and execution of laws by the Federal Government.
• Example: I receive a subpoena to testify in a criminal trial. While on the stand, I am asked questions that may incriminate me if I answer truthfully. I request not to answer the question based upon the observance of my 5th Amendment right against self incrimination.
• Note: The 5th Amendment does not prevent the federal and state governments from bringing charges against an individual for the same conduct. The Supreme Court also recognizes a fundamental right to privacy implied in the 5th Amendment protections.
• Discussion: Many people are familiar with the 5th Amendment in criminal law cases because of popular comedy skits (see The Dave Chapelle Show) or through popular movies (see Double Jeopardy). In what contexts are you familiar with the use of Amendment?
• Practice Question: Meredith is confused about what protections exist under the 5th Amendment of the Constitution. She knows that there are criminal law protections and procedural protections. Can you briefly explain the various protections of the 5th Amendment to her?