criminal casesthe fifth amendment offers five important protections H u m a n i t i e s
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Amendment Five – Rights in Criminal Cases
The Fifth Amendment offers five important protections of the civil and legal rights of Americans. The sections of the amendment and the protections involved include the following:
“No persons 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 in public danger.”
This part of the Fifth Amendment seeks to protect people accused of serious crimes against unfair arrest and trial. Under our system of law, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. Even so, a trial can damage a person’s reputation, though they may be found innocent. Furthermore, the cost of a trial may ruin an accused person financially. Therefore, it is important that no person be brought to trial unless there is good reason or proof for the action.
The “grand jury” offers one way to avoid needless trials. It can also help protect the liberties and reputation of an individual. The grand jury meets in secret to examine the evidence against the accused. If the evidence is strong enough, the jury will hand down an indictment. This is not a guilty verdict. It means that there is enough evidence for a trial. A grand jury may also refuse to indict a person if there is a lack of evidence. In these cases, the accused is released and will not have to endure the costs and damage of a regular trial.
Grand jury indictments do not apply to the military or in time of war or great emergencies. The armed forces have their own code of law and operate with courts-martial, not civil courts.
The second part of the Fifth Amendment states:
“…nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
The “double jeopardy” clause offers an important protection. In the past, it was not unusual for persons found not guilty of a crime to be charged a second time for the same crime. Government officials insisted on putting the accused on trial until the “right” verdict of guilty was delivered.
The Fifth Amendment makes such action illegal. Once found not guilty, the accused cannot be tried again on the same charges, even if new evidence in uncovered. However, it may be possible to use new evidence to charge the accused with another form of crime.
The third part of the Fifth Amendment is often referred to when people say they are taking the Fifth.” This portion of the Fifth Amendment says that no person:
“…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
Again, in our system of law a person is considered innocent until proven guilty by evidence. The evidence must be produced by those making the charge against the accused person. The evidence must be based on facts, not on rumor or guess. Evidence must be gathered properly and not by illegal means. Also, evidence must not be forced from the person accused of the crime.
In such instances, people have been forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Threats and torture have been used to make people confess. Sometimes the letters and papers of the accused have been seized without proper search warrants. The letters and papers were then used as evidence during a trial. Used in this way, the people were testifying against themselves. All of this is prevented by the Fifth Amendment protection of self-incrimination.
Until a charge is proven in court, the accused is considered innocent. Proving the charge is the task of those who made the charge. They cannot force accused people to give testimony against, and to incriminate, themselves. Therefore, when a person is testifying or is being questioned, he or she may refuse to answer questions by “pleading the Fifth.” It is not an admission of guilt, but is the proper use of the Bill of Rights under the Constitutional system of law.
The fourth section of the Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be:
“…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”
This “due process” clause gives a great many protections to our civil and legal rights. In the case of the accused it means:
- The accused must be arrested and charges properly
- The law under which the accused is charges must be proper under the Constitution
- The accused has the right to a lawyer
- The jury must be fair and impartial and represent a cross section of the community (a jury of peers)
- All evidence must be gathered properly
- Trial procedure must be fair and unbiased
- The accused, the witnesses, the court, and the jury must not be subject to threats, pressure, or harassment.
All of these issues are part of the guarantee of due process. This attention to legal rights is guaranteed to those whose property is needed by a state or federal government.
The fifth and final clause of the Fifth Amendment states:
“…nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
This means that government may, if necessary, take private property. It can do so under the accepted power of “eminent domain.” This gives the government the power to take over private property for public use. However, government may not do so unless it have proven need for the property and must also pay a fair compensation for taking the property.
Lesson 8 Review
Directions: The following are “headlines” from a newspaper. Give your opinion of the events or “story” behind the “headline.”
Explain whether these situations violated the Fifth Amendment.
A strong paragraph includes a minimum of three to five details from the lesson and is written in Academic English form. For more information on Academic English form, refer to the documents in the Orientation.
1. GRAND JURY REFUSES TO HAND DOWN INDICTMENT IN SLANDER CASE
2. POLICE HAD NO WARRANT TO SEIZE DRUGS.
3. WITNESS REFUSES TO TALK TO GRAND JURY – “PLEADS FIFTH”
4. TRAFFIC TICKETS ISSUED AFTER CAMERAS RECORD VIOLATIONS
5. BUSINESS CLOSES AFTER PATRONS COMPLAIN OF OWNER’S POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.
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