Fifth Amendment

[ fifth uh-mend-muhnt, fith ]


  1. an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, providing chiefly that people cannot be required to testify against themselves in a criminal case and that no person be subjected to a second trial for an offense for which they have been duly tried previously.

Fifth Amendment


  1. an amendment to the US Constitution stating that no person may be compelled to testify against himself and that no person may be tried for a second time on a charge for which he has already been acquitted
  2. take the fifth
    take the fifthtake the fifth amendment to refuse to answer a question on the grounds that it might incriminate oneself

Fifth Amendment

  1. One of the ten amendments to the United States Constitution that make up the Bill of Rights . The Fifth Amendment imposes restrictions on the government's prosecution of persons accused of crimes. It prohibits self-incrimination and double jeopardy and mandates due process of law .

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To “take the Fifth” is to refuse to testify because the testimony could lead to self-incrimination.

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Example Sentences

That violated Cosby’s Fifth Amendment rights, wrote Justice David Wecht.

“Such a regime makes no sense, either as a matter of Fifth Amendment law or of military planning,” it says.

That apparently is a reference to his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.


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More About Fifth Amendment

What does the Fifth Amendment mean?

The Fifth Amendment is an amendment to the US Constitution that guarantees people certain rights in legal proceedings. It is part of the Bill of Rights.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the fundamental law of the country. An amendment is a change to something. An amendment to the Constitution is any text added to the original document since its ratification in 1788. The Constitution has been amended 27 times in American history.

The entire text of the Fifth Amendment reads:

“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 offense 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 amendment exists to protect people who have been accused of crimes and to make sure that trials are as fair as possible.

It means that if you are accused of a serious crime, you have the right to a trial with a grand jury and that you can’t be tried for the same crime twice. It also means that you don’t have to testify about or answer questions that will present proof of your guilt (self-incrimination). And it guarantees due process of the law and compensation for any private property that the government takes to use in a trial.

People also use the term Fifth Amendment in social situations. If you ask someone an uncomfortable question, and they think that giving an honest answer will make them look bad, they might tell you that they “plead the Fifth.” That references the Fifth Amendment’s protection of the right to remain silent. Even though you’re not in a courtroom, they are telling you that they’d rather keep quiet than share the truth.

Why is the Fifth Amendment important?

“I plead the Fifth!” is a dramatic line used in many movie and TV courtrooms. A witness is stressed or nervous about answering a lawyer’s question, and tensions are high. By “pleading the Fifth,” they are declaring their right to refuse to answer questions that will hurt their own case.

The Fifth Amendment is also the reason why law enforcement is legally required to inform suspects of their rights when they are taken into custody. If you are arrested by the police, for example, the police have to tell you that you have the right to not answer any questions and the right to legal counsel. They also must tell you that if you can’t afford a lawyer, the government will provide one (also known as a public defender) and that anything you say (with or without a lawyer present) can be used as evidence against you. These are often referred to as your Miranda rights, named after the 1966 Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona.

Did you know ... ?

The Fourteenth Amendment extended the Fifth Amendment to state governments as well as the federal government.

What are real-life examples of the Fifth Amendment?

In August 2022, former President Donald Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment during a deposition with the New York attorney general in an investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial practices.

People will sometimes say in nonlegal situations, “I plead the Fifth” to tell others they don’t want to talk about something.


Quiz yourself!

True or False? 

The Fifth Amendment tries to help the government win more trials.

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