You Have The Right To Remain Silent: Fifth Amendment Explained

Posted 03 Oct 2010

"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 offence 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."

- Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution

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The right to remain silent is a fundamental principle of liberty.  It gives American citizens better privacy.  The burden falls on the accuser to build a case against a person.  If the accuser does not meet that burden, the accused is free to go.  The accused never, ever, is required to furnish any evidence or testimony against himself.  In other words, liberty requires that you have the right to remain silent.

If the accused were forced to produce evidence that they did not commit an act, innocent people would be forced to prove a negative.  Proving a negative is usually far more difficult, if not impossible to do. Anyone without an alibi would be convicted. No one could afford to spend even one minute alone in that kind of world.  The right to remain silent preserves a functioning system of justice and a functioning society.

Fifth Amendment Explained

The fifth amendment to the United States Constitution does not say explicitly that you have the right to remain silent.  It does say that you do not have to be a witness against yourself.  This means that you cannot be compelled to reveal information that might implicate you in a crime.


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You Have The Right To Remain Silent Applies To Innocent People Too

Law abiding citizens are particularly at risk because they think that the truth will set them free.  They feel compelled that if they just tell their story they will be exonerated.  This is not true.  Numerous opportunities abound for an innocent individual to become entrapped by speaking with police.

Fifth Amendment Explained:  Exaggeration, Misspeaking, Broad Statements

Innocent people often overstate or understate some fact while vigorously defending their innocence.  This makes their testimony technically untrue, or at least a prosecutor can make it look like it's untrue.  Once attention is called to the misstatement, the rest of the testimony is suspect because of the one untruth.  This suspicion may be sufficient to land the innocent person in jail.

You Have The Right To Remain Silent:  Honest Mistakes

Police officers may make an innocent mistake and not remember correctly what you said.  If you claim you told the cop one thing, and he claims you said another, the police officer will be believed over an accused any day.  If you had said nothing, the cop would have to flat out lie that you said something.  That is not likely to happen.

There may be a witness that will mistakenly identify you as the suspect in a crime.  If you claim one thing that is absolutely true, there may be a solid witness that is honestly mistaken about seeing you.  If your testimony contradicts theirs, the witness will be believed instead of the accused.  If you don't say anything, there will be nothing to contradict and the honesty of the accused will not be in play.

Fifth Amendment Explained: Overcriminalization

The federal criminal code contains over 10,000 crimes.  State laws add even more crimes to the list.  Not even the government knows them all.  Many of these crimes are for seemingly innocent behavior, such as buying 2 packages of cold medicine, or possessing a flower that any other country in the world has outlawed.

  Thus, telling your true story about your seemingly completely innocent behavior could, in and of itself, implicate you in a crime, you should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever speak to government agents, ever.

Criminals know that talking may incriminate them and so are much more aware of their right to silence and are much more inclined to use it.  Innocent people like you aren't aware of these dangers.  And, if someone is truly innocent, they need to know this right and know how to use it far more than criminals do.

You Have The Right To Remain Silent For A Reason. Use It For Better Privacy.

Under no circumstances should you ever talk to a police officer, fire fighter, ticket enforcer or street sweeper.  All of them are government agents and can be a witness to use anything you say to them against you in a court of law.

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The Supreme Court recently ruled that to invoke your right to silence, you have to break your silence and speak.  They might need the fifth amendment explained to them again, but that is what they said.  A simple phrase such as "I am invoking my right to remain silent" should suffice.

Free Aid For Better Privacy

There is a free and handy insert for your passport that will show you exactly what you need to do to invoke your right to remain silent.  It is designed to help you right when you need it.  You will have it with you as you go through Customs upon re-entering the US.  Customs officers may need to have the fifth amendment explained to them too, so there are several cases which clearly show your right to remain silent in that situation.  Remaining silent can give you better privacy when re-entering the country.

Customs will still have the right to do a thorough search of you and your belongings whether you invoke your right to remain silent or not.  Threatening a search, or actually subjecting you to search for invoking your rights is within their power.

Avoid Hassle

To avoid being targeted for a search, it helps if you are not the only one invoking your rights. If lots of others are invoking their right to remain silent on a regular basis, no single individual will stand out any more than normal.

To decrease the likelihood of a search and promote even better privacy, share the free guide with everyone that you know.  You have permission to post it anywhere, share it with anyone, make copies, print, and distribute it for free in any legal way as long as nothing is changed.  The more people that exercise their rights, the better privacy for everybody.

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So go ahead and download and distribute this free guide and enjoy.