Criminal defendants in the United States have the right not to testify against themselves at trial. The right against incriminating oneself is derived from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and is the source of the term “pleading the Fifth” when witnesses decline to provide self-incriminating testimony at a trial.
Morristown residents may be curious for more information on how this right works. Criminal defendants have the right not to testify at their criminal trials. This means that even though a criminal defendant may be able to provide the best testimonial evidence in a criminal trial, the prosecution cannot call the defendant to the stand.
Defendants may testify at their trials if they wish to do so. If a defendant chooses to testify, he is said to have waived his right not to incriminate himself. This means that the defendant must answer the prosecutor’s proper questions during a cross-examination after waiving the right.
Assuming that a defendant has not waived their right against self-incrimination, juries are instructed not to take the defendant’s silence into consideration when determining whether the defendant’s guilt has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the right only extends to communicative evidence. The right does not extend to such personal but non-communicative pieces of evidence such as fingerprints, police photographs or DNA evidence. There may be other legal or constitutional provisions that could keep this evidence out, however.
This kind of constitutional law can be complex, with many exceptions and distinctions. This post has supplied a very quick summary of the right against self-incrimination. Criminal defense lawyers may be able to provide answers to more specific questions.