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Know Your Right to Plead the Fifth

The following is a transcript of " The Legal Lad's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life, " a podcast from QuickAndDirtyTips.com . The audio program is available via RSS feed here and at TheStreet.com's podcast home page .

Hello, and welcome to Legal Lad's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life.

But first, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, I do have feelings, and I admit that I was truly touched by the letters of support I received from you, loyal listeners. The past two weeks were much less painful and much more bearable with your kind and thoughtful well-wishing. I truly appreciate your support, and am very glad to be back behind the microphone.

And second, the standard disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.

Today's topic is the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self-incrimination. Several listeners have written in with questions after seeing a witness in a TV show take the Fifth to avoid testifying, and after reading about how Monica Goodling attempted to take the Fifth when she testified before Congress regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The Fifth Amendment provides in full:

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 offense 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.

The relevant portion for today's episode is the phrase, "nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." This privilege allows a person to refuse to answer official questions put to him in any proceeding, civil or criminal, formal or informal, where the answers might incriminate him in future criminal proceedings. This is the basis for the famous portion of the Miranda warning: "You have the right to remain silent."

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