What Does Plead the Fifth Mean?

I Plead the Fifth Meaning

Definition: To invoke one’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not testify against oneself.

Origin of Plead the Fifth

This expression is a legal term that appears most often in court or in criminal investigations.

The expression comes from the United States Constitution. The Constitution is an important document that defines the fundamental government and laws of the USA. It was ratified in the year 1790. Around that time, people introduced several amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

The fifth of these, known as the Fifth Amendment, protects a citizen from self-incrimination. This means that someone accused of a crime does not have to answer questions about the alleged crime if it will incriminate him or her.

A person who wishes to use the Fifth Amendment will often say I plead the fifth. An important note of this is that pleading the fifth is not an admission of guilt. While some people may find it suspicious when someone uses it, it is never an admission of guilt.

Examples of Plead the Fifth

what does it mean to plead the fifthHere is an example of a teacher using the expression in a math class.

Teacher: John, where is your homework?

Student: Um…I plead the fifth.

Teacher: You’re not on trial. You’re in school. If you didn’t do your homework, pleading the fifth won’t help you. You’ll still fail the assignment.

what does I plead the fifth meanIn this example, two friends are discussing a trial that one of them must testify in.

Monica: I can’t believe that you actually have to go testify in that robbery case!

Janice: I know! Me neither. I’m a little nervous though because even though I was a witness at the time, I was also publically intoxicated.

Monica: So what?

Janice: So, that’s a crime! I don’t want to get in trouble for that. And I can’t lie while testifying!

Monica: You don’t have to incriminate yourself. If they ask you about that, just plead the fifth.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about an official who admitted to an ethics violation.

  • Attorney Buck Wood, a senior partner in an Austin firm who has practiced election law for four decades, had no direct knowledge about the case or the testimony but said if Scott had been his client he would have advised him to plead the Fifth Amendment and avoid incriminating himself. –Houston Chronicle

The second excerpt is about students learning about their rights and questioning the logic behind them.

  • Seventh-grader Jonathan Ashlock questioned why someone would plead the Fifth.

“That’s pretty much saying you’re lying,” Ashlock said. –Denver Post

Summary

The phrase plead the fifth means that a person chooses not to answer a question in a legal or criminal case on the basis that he or she might incriminate himself or herself.

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