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The Fifth Amendment

By Tyler Bauer

This is the fifth of many blog posts that will be taking a deeper look at the various amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as proposed amendments to the United States Constitution which failed. The text of each amendment is taken from constitutionus.com and information on failed amendments is taken from www.lexisnexus.com.

The Fifth Amendment

What it Says

Note: The bolded numbers are mine and are intended to differentiate between sections of this amendment.

(1) No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; (2) nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; (3) nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, (4) nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; (5) nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

What it Means

The Fifth Amendment is easiest to understand if it’s broken down into five sections.

1. To be tried in a federal court, you have to have been indicted by a Grand Jury. If you are not indicted, you cannot be tried for the crime you have been accused of committing.

2. You cannot be tried for the same crime twice (this is known as double jeopardy).

3. You cannot be forced to incriminate yourself.

4. The government cannot take your life, liberty or property without due process of law.

5. The government can seize your private property for public use, but they must fairly compensate you for the seized property.

Why it Matters

Again, the significance of the Fifth Amendment can be better understood if we use the aforementioned five sections.

1. This protects us from being brought into court and tried on fabricated charges. In theory, any and all individuals being tried in federal courts have been indicted by a Grand Jury, and are therefore justifiably forced to appear in court.

2. This section protects you from being tried multiple times for the same crime. Without this, you could be forced to face countless court cases despite previously being acquitted. Thankfully, once you are acquitted, you are considered not guilty and can carry on with your life without worrying about being forced back into court.

3. If you’ve ever watched Cops or any show like it, you’ve probably heard someone say, “You have the right to remain silent.” This is where that right comes from. Without this right, you could be compelled to speak, meaning you could be forced to incriminate yourself and be jailed without having a fair trial.

4. You cannot be deprived of your basic rights – life, liberty, and property – without due process of law. In other words, you have the right to a fair trial. So, you can’t be jailed, for example, without being proven guilty in a court of law.

5. This section prevents the government from taking any and all private property it wants without just compensation. While it may still seem unfair that the government can seize your private property (it’s extremely unfair), you will at least be given the fair market value of the property being seized. Without this section, the government could seize all of your property at no cost, leaving you with no property or money.

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