The phrase "pleading the Fifth" has become part of our national lexicon. It's often used by witnesses to indicate their refusal to answer questions when the answers might serve to incriminate them: simply put, what a person doesn't say cannot be used against him/her.
The self-incrimination clause, part of the Fifth Amendment ratified in 1791 as part of the original Bill of Rights, has been used throughout history. However, it has invaded the national consciousness recently as many notable figures have invoked its rights in high-profile cases: Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny invoked the privilege when testifying before a Senate subcommittee about sex abuse allegations against team physician Larry Nassar, M.D. Michael Cohen pleaded the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels case. Fusion GPS Co-Founder Glenn Simpson refused to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee about the anti-Trump dossier. Roger Stone did the same when asked to share documents and testimony with the Senate Judiciary Committee pertaining to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It's also speculated that President Trump may invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions from Robert Mueller; if that happens, he'd become the first sitting President to do so.
To many Americans, taking the Fifth is tantamount to confessing. But is that an accurate interpretation? What does the Fifth Amendment actually say? How do the courts balance the rights of individual liberty and self-protection with the quest for justice?
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