Former President Donald Trump said he invoked the Fifth Amendment Wednesday during question by the New York attorney general’s office as part of a probe into his finances.
The investigation reportedly concerns claims Trump and The Trump Organization artificially inflated the value of real estate holdings in order to get loans. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Trump said his decision to refuse to answer questions was due, in large part, to the FBI raid on Monday of his Mar-a-Lago home.
What does it mean when someone invokes his or her Fifth Amendment rights? Here’s a look at the amendment and what it means to “take the Fifth.”
What is “the Fifth?”
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution spells out numerous rights pertaining to legal proceedings, including that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
In other words, people do not have to give testimony that could hurt them in their own cases.
The amendment is an old one, dating back to 1791.
If it applies to criminal cases, how can Trump use it in a civil case?
The understanding of the amendment has evolved over time. Now, the protections guaranteed in the amendment are understood to cover defendants and witnesses in criminal and civil courts.
What are the limitations of the amendment?
Under what has become the legal standard, the witness has to be facing a genuine risk of criminal prosecution, Paul Cassell, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah, told The Associated Press. That means prosecution on any charge in any U.S. court.
However, there are exceptions for cases held in military courts or for those actively serving in the military.
Does it hurt you to invoke the Fifth?
Under the law, no, it does not hurt your case. Prosecutors cannot comment on a defendant’s refusal to testify, and a jury can’t be advised that it’s OK to take defendants’ silence as a sign of guilt.
However, what a jury thinks of someone invoking the Fifth is another matter.
Trump himself derided people who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, saying that “the mob takes the Fifth.”
But on Wednesday, he said he had no choice but to do so.
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question,” he said in his statement, calling the probe “a vindictive and self-serving fishing expedition.”
“The United States Constitution exists for this very purpose, and I will utilize it to the fullest extent to defend myself against this malicious attack.”
“Does it look bad? In the general public’s understanding, yes,” Howard University criminal law professor Lenese Herbert told the AP. “But that’s just a result of poor civics education.”
Someone who is on trial has the right not to take the stand and testify to anything that may damage their case.
Here is the text of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“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; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
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