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What is the Fifth Amendment and how does it apply to me?

Most of us are familiar with it through television and movies: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you.” We know about it, but not necessarily what it is and how it protects our freedoms.

The statement is based on the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The founders of the U.S. intended that every person—whether a citizen or not—has certain protections and rights. One of them is the right not to incriminate yourself, meaning you cannot be forced to give testimony or statements that could be used to prosecute you.or imprison you.

When did it happen?

The right has always been there, but the requirement that a person be read their rights upon arrest did not come about until 1966, when a case called Miranda v Arizona came before the Supreme Court of the United States. That is why the statement is also referred to as “Miranda Rights.”

Is it only when you are arrested?

The requirement only applies when someone has been arrested. It does not apply any time law enforcement seeks to speak with a person. For example, an officer could question you on the street, on the phone or even at the station, and unless you are under arrest, the warning is not required.

Many individuals have inadvertently given police information that furthers an investigation against them simply because they thought, if they were a suspect, the police would have read them the Miranda warning.

How can I apply it?

It is important, therefore, that you invoke the right whenever you have contact with law enforcement. It is your right—and your responsibility—to say, “I will not talk to you without an attorney present.” Doing so ensures that you are never in a situation when your words can be used against you.

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