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Self Incrimination

Self Incrimination

The Fifth Amendment of the constitution protects those accused of a crime from making statements that could be used against them in criminal court. Those accused of a crime, despite this right, often incriminate themselves, without their knowledge, by making statements to the police. It is advisable to make any statements only in the presence of a lawyer, to prevent implicating or incriminating oneself.

What is the legal precedent for the prohibition on self-incrimination?

The landmark legal case, Miranda v. Arizona, requires officers to inform suspects of their protection against self-incrimination, specifically their “right to remain silent.” Statements made prior to being informed of the right to remain silent and have an attorney present are inadmissible in court. Subsequent court decisions, such as Berghuis v. Thompkins (2010) decided in the Supreme Court, has ruled that voluntary statements made by the suspect in police custody after being informed of Miranda rights can be interpreted as a waiver of those rights, making the statements admissible in determining the suspect’s guilt.

What are self-incriminating statements?

Any statement where the suspect admits to certain actions of behaviors can be used to incriminate them. For instance, one that is questioned over the murder of a relative and admits to not being fond of that relative has uttered a self-incriminating statement. This is not nearly enough to tie the individual to the murder, but is enough to establish motive. Self-incriminating statements have been used a number of times to convict individuals for crimes, even if those statements do not constitute a confession or there is insufficient evidence. Self-incriminating statements can also be made during police interrogations. Police are allowed to lie and make false promises to coax a suspect into self-incrimination, thus necessitating the presence of a lawyer during police interrogations.

What should one do in police custody?

After you are informed of your Miranda rights, your only obligation to talk to the police is to identify yourself by stating your name and handing over identification. Failure for the police to inform you of your Miranda rights is sufficient to invalidate an entire criminal case. The right against self-incrimination does not cover finger printing as well as blood and other DNA tests and you must submit to these tests as requested. Do not make any other statements without the presence of an attorney.

What is “pleading the Fifth”?

Pleading the fifth is the refusal to testify as the testimony entered can be used to implicate the witness in criminal actions. This right is waived if the witness answers any questions posed by the prosecution. If the witness is subpoenaed to testify, the witness may choose to answer no questions. Witnesses cannot be charged with contempt of court for refusing to answer questions. It is best to consult with an attorney prior to testifying to ensure that you will not make a self-incriminating statement. When pleasing the Fifth, you must choose to answer all questions or answer no questions. One cannot selectively chose questions to answer when testifying.

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