He Took the Fifth!

I think we’re far enough away from any big legal drama playing out in the news that I can go into this subject. I kind of have a feeling it’s going to be an issue again pretty soon, so let’s clear something up:

When someone “takes the 5th,” they’re invoking their constitutional right to not answer questions that might incriminate them. The problem is, most people not familiar with the law will say something like, “they took the 5th, they must have done something that they need to hide!”

Well, here’s why utilizing that right should not be taken as a sign of guilt. Say I leave a bar at 12:30 one night. I walk to my car and leave, and no one sees me go. At 12:33, someone staggers into the bar saying, “someone just stabbed me outside, and I didn’t get a good look at him.” There are no witnesses.

Now when I get picked up by the police as someone whose credit card was charged in the bar over the course of the evening, the investigators are going to ask, “What time did you leave the bar last night?” If I answer truthfully, that piece of information will, in fact, be used as incriminating evidence by the DA for prosecution. Imagine if I was the last person to leave? It looks pretty damn bad.

I can’t legally lie. That’s perjury. So I take the 5th.

So there are entirely credible circumstances for someone to plead the 5th during an investigation to avoid being wrongfully charged or convicted for a crime. Someone might have done something that looks bad given the context of an investigation, even though they hadn’t broken the law.

So in the next several months… call it a hunch… high profile trials or hearings will transpire. No matter how much it appears that the parties have transgressed, no matter how much you personally want to see them punished, crowing about “they took the 5th ___ times” is simply a path that we shouldn’t be going down.

  • Rob Salgado

    A little too politically correct for my taste. Yes, we should be open minded when people are taking the 5th, but we should also try to be aware, as with any tool, when it is being overused or used to avoid justice. Otherwise, the value of a straight answer is diminished. Maybe I will sniff instead of crow.

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