What Does the Fifth Amendment Protect Us From?

According to FindLaw, the Fifth Amendment protects those on U.S. soil who are accused of a crime from being compelled to testify against themselves. This protection means that defendants cannot be required to testify at their own criminal trial, and it also means that no one accused or suspected of a crime can be compelled to answer questions during police interrogations. Defendants and suspects can waive this right.

When a defendant waives the right against self-incrimination at trial by choosing to take the stand, the defendant must then answer any and all questions, according to FindLaw. FindLaw also notes that courts have a wide latitude in interpreting the Fifth Amendment. The courts interpret the Fifth Amendment as giving a suspect the right to remain silent in police interrogations, but this is not explicitly stated in the constitution. The Fifth Amendment states: "No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." Whether that means in court or interrogation is open to interpretation.

FindLaw explains that the Fifth Amendment is rooted in the Puritans refusal to cooperate with interrogators in 17th century England. Interrogators of that time used torture and coercion. England outlawed compulsory self-incrimination in the 16th century. The Puritans brought the idea of banning forced self-incrimination with them from England to America, resulting in the Fifth Amendment.