What is the 5th Amendment About?
The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights and deals with criminal proceedings. Its provisions include:
- Allowing people to be indicted by a grand jury before going to trial
- Protection against being made to answer more than once for the same crime (Double Jeopardy)
- Allowing people to keep from incriminating themselves
- The right to fair treatment by the court system
Let’s look at each of these in more depth in the order of their appearance in the Fifth Amendment.
Trial By Grand Jury
The first line of the Amendment mentions that the courts can only try people for “infamous” crimes if a grand jury indicts them.
What’s a grand jury?
A grand jury is different from the trial jury you’d see in a courtroom TV show because it doesn’t deliver a verdict. It only delivers indictments.
What does a grand jury do?
The grand jury will look at all the evidence of a case (including some that might not be admissible to a trial jury, such as illegally-obtained evidence) and decide whether or not it’s sufficient to indict (indictment is simply a word for “legally accuse”) the person of the supposed crime.
What crimes does the 5th Amendment Apply to?
The text of the Fifth Amendment technically only applies to federal felonies. While all states have laws that permit grand juries, only about half use grand juries. It also only applies to “infamous” or “capital crimes.” This means any crime with a penalty of more than one year of incarceration, a felony, or a crime that permits the death penalty.
Protection Against Double Jeopardy
The Fifth Amendment also prevents people from being made to answer for the same crime twice (referred to as “double jeopardy”). This means that a person can’t be put on trial twice or sent to prison twice for the same offense.
This does not apply in the case of a mistrial or if the defendant requests an appeal. A person may also be tried once on the state level and again on a federal level.
Right to Due Process
The Fifth Amendment states that a person cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law
.” Due process” means that trials will be conducted fairly and within the bounds of the law – a person accused of a crime can expect to go through a set procedure.
Again, this provision technically only applies to federal courts, but the Fourteenth Amendment has expanded the guarantee of due process to cover all the states.
Protection Against Self-Incrimination
Most people are aware of the expression “I plead the Fifth.” When a person suspected of a crime says this, they’re asserting their right to avoid self-incrimination as guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. Basically, a person could say something that could be used as evidence against them in a trial – they don’t have to respond to a question if they don’t want to because what they say might be used against them.
The famous “Miranda warning” issued by police also finds its roots in the Fifth Amendment – “you have the right to remain silent” directly references the section on self-incrimination.
Right to Just Compensation
A government can take private land for public use if it so desires. This ability is called eminent domain. For example, a government could seize part of someone’s estate and use it to construct a section of a new highway.
The Fifth Amendment puts a limit on eminent domain. If the government does this, they have to pay the owner.
The value paid is called fair market value – essentially, the government must pay what the property’s value would be if bought by an individual on the open market.