In Oregon and across the U.S., individuals have the right to “plead the Fifth” when in police custody or in court. When exercising this Fifth Amendment right, a person may choose not to answer questions related to his or her arrest. This right is granted under the U.S. Constitution, and it extends to both state and local jurisdictions.
The main purpose of the Fifth Amendment right is to protect individuals against self-incrimination. The Fifth Amendment also allows individuals to remain silent while in police custody, provides writs of habeas corpus and protects against double jeopardy.
When at trial in a criminal defense case, the defendant has the right not to testify under the Fifth Amendment. This means the defendant cannot be forced against his or her will by a defense lawyer, criminal prosecutor or judge to take the witness stand in court. If a defendant does choose to take the stand, that defendant’s rights under the Fifth Amendment are waived, and he or she must answer all questions posed in court. Trial witnesses, on the other hand, may choose to selectively or completely apply their Fifth Amendment right during questioning.
It is important to note that a jury may not consider a defendant’s choice to exercise the Fifth Amendment at a criminal trial as an admission of guilt. Defendants may also exercise their Fifth Amendment right at civil trials. In this case, however, jurors are free to make their own inferences regarding a defendant’s guilt.
When an individual has been charged criminally, it may be important to have a criminal defense attorney to defend that individual’s rights. Criminal charges can carry serious penalties, including significant prison time and large fines, so a person may want to contact an attorney as soon as possible after an investigation has started.