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A Witnesses’ Self-Incrimination Rights

A judge about to hit a block with a gavel, representing how one can benefit from calling a Portland criminal defense lawyer.

You have a right to not be forced to say something that could incriminate yourself for a crime. This is your right against self-incrimination, and is one of the biggest, but also one of the most confusing, parts of the Fifth Amendment.

One of the confusing aspects of your right against self-incrimination is when you can invoke it. The reality is that you can incriminate yourself for a crime even before police suspect that you’ve done something illegal. This can happen if you get called to testify at someone else’s trial as a witness. Luckily, just because you aren’t the defendant in a trial does not mean that you can’t invoke your Fifth Amendment rights.

A Witnesses’ Self-Incrimination Rights

A common situation where you might want to invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is if you are being used as a witness in someone else’s trial. For example, if one of your friends is on trial for assault, the prosecutor might try to use you to challenge your friend’s alibi. You might get asked what you were doing at the time of the assault. Unbeknownst to the prosecutor, though, it was at that exact time that you were trafficking drugs.

This would leave you in the catch-22 that the Fifth Amendment was designed to avoid: You can either say the truth and admit to drug trafficking, tell a lie and face a perjury charge, or say nothing and be held in contempt of court. Pleading the Fifth is one way to get out of this situation.

The Tactic of Forcing a Witness to Plead the Fifth

It might seem like a long shot that you’ll ever be put in this situation. However, it happens more often that you would think, because making a witness plead the Fifth is a common courtroom tactic.

If they know or suspect that you’ll plead the Fifth if you get called as a witness and they know that the jury will associate you with the defendant, prosecutors will sometimes call you to the stand, anyway. Once on the stand, prosecutors can push you into pleading the Fifth if they think it will make the defendant in the case look bad.

Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

Situations like these can put unwitting people in serious legal trouble. Without knowing your right to invoke the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause beforehand, you could find yourself testifying as a witness in someone else’s trial and being asked a question that backs your into a terrible corner. Understanding and exercising your rights are crucial to avoiding serious legal repercussions.

Having a criminal defense attorney like William T. Bly at your side in these situations can help. Even if you haven’t been charged with a crime and are not being investigated for one, having legal representation in these situations can prevent that from changing. Call the law office of William T. Bly at (207) 571-8146 or contact him online.


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So thankful I chose this team to represent me. They’re the best, hands down. Nathan Hitchcock proved my innocence not once but TWICE, including a trial by jury. I have a family in law enforcement who told me “Bill Bly and his team are the best. If I would recommend anyone, it would be them.”

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