Case Law Interpreting the Fifth Amendment

Once a suspect has been arrested or taken into custody, the rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are triggered. In Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed.2d 694 (1966), the Supreme Court held that under the Fifth Amendment’s Self-Incrimination Clause, statements made to the police during custodial interrogation will later be deemed inadmissible at trial unless the suspect is first told that he or she has: (1) the right to remain silent; (2) the right to consult an attorney before being questioned by the police; (3) the right to have an attorney present during police questioning; (4) the right to a court appointed attorney if the defendant cannot afford to hire a private attorney; and (5) the right to be informed that any statements they do make can and will be used against them at trial.

If a suspect makes a request to consult with an attorney, the interrogation must immediately cease or any subsequent statements made without the attorney present will be ruled inadmissible. However, a suspect’s request for an attorney will not prevent law enforcement from compelling the suspect to participate in a lineup of persons for the victim to review or from having the suspect’s picture taken and shown to the victim in a photo array. Nor may a suspect raise the Self-Incrimination Clause as an objection to giving a writing sample, providing a voice exemplar, or taking a blood test. Applying a Fourth Amendment analysis, the Supreme Court has said that the Self-Incrimination Clause does not apply to these situations because individuals have no privacy interest in their physical characteristics.

The purpose of the right against self-incrimination is to deter the government from compelling a confession through force, coercion, or deception. Confessions produced by these methods are not only considered uncivilized by modern standards, but they are also considered unreliable, since they are often involuntary or unwitting or the result of the accused’s desire to avoid further browbeating, instead of being the product of candor or a desire to confess.

The Fifth Amendment guarantees three other rights that relate to criminal procedure. First, every defendant has the right to be indicted by a grand jury before standing trial in federal court. As noted above, the Grand Jury Clause has not been made applicable to the states, and many states allow prosecutions based on information or complaint, which are written instruments prepared by the prosecutor. In federal criminal proceedings and in states that use the grand jury system, grand juries are normally comprised of between 16 and 23 persons from the district in which the crime occurred, and they can return an indictment against the defendant by majority vote.

Second, the Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from subjecting individuals to multiple prosecutions or multiple punishments for a single offense. This prohibition is called the right against double jeopardy. Defendants may bring motions pursuant to the Double Jeopardy Clause either before a trial to prevent a subsequent prosecution or punishment or after trial to overturn a subsequent prosecution or punishment.

Third, the Fifth Amendment guarantees every defendant the right to due process. The Due Process Clause requires that all criminal proceedings be conducted in a fair manner by an impartial judge who will allow accused individuals to fully present their defense, and proceedings that produce arbitrary or capricious results will be overturned as unconstitutional. The right to due process applies to every phase of criminal proceedings from pre-trial questioning to post-trial hearings and appeals, and its application to some of these proceedings will be discussed below.


Inside Case Law Interpreting the Fifth Amendment