You are protected by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which assures you of several rights. One of the most often cited is that it protects you from self-incrimination. While it should be that simple, complications – particularly in today’s technology-fueled society – has resulted in questions being raised about how far that right extends. Keep reading to learn more and do not hesitate to contact Law Office of Michael L. Fell at (949) 585-9055 if you need a free consultation from an attorney.
You Have the Right to “Plead the Fifth”
Most people are aware that the Fifth Amendment gives them the right to “plead the Fifth.” This means that if they are asked a question while in custody or in court that could potentially incriminate themselves, a person is not required to answer. However, it is not an unlimited power. The Fifth Amendment only covers situations in which a person’s testimony could realistically lead to them incriminating themselves.
For example, if the court gives a person immunity from being prosecuted for anything they may say during their testimony, then they could be compelled to testify by the court. If they continue to refuse to do so, they could face court sanctions.
Protections from the Fifth Amendment Do Not Extend to Physical Characteristics
The courts have decided that one of the limits to Fifth Amendment protection is physical characteristics. The Supreme Court says that the Fifth Amendment applies only to the “contents of his own mind.” As a result, a person must provide physical characteristics if they are compelled to – even if they can be used against them. This includes measurements, blood samples, writing samples, DNA samples, and fingerprints. Tattoos are often required to be shown to the jury, especially in gang-related charges.
Questions Remain About How Evidence Stored on Computers is Affected by the Fifth Amendment
As of 2019, the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the issue of law enforcement being able to force a suspect to unencrypt data on their personal computing devices of phones, or the requirement that said suspect must turn over their password to get into a phone or computer. Criminal defense attorneys will certainly argue that you are being asked to incriminate yourself by doing so.
Know Your Rights and Work with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Even if the crime you are facing does not seem serious, or you believe you can simply plead guilty to a misdemeanor and do a few hours of community service, you do not want a conviction on your record. To prevent this from happening, contact Law Office of Michael L. Fell at (949) 585-9055. If you have already been convicted, we may be able to help with expungement options. Call us now to find out.