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Feb 13, 2017

Self-Incrimination and Written Documents

The Fifth Amendment guarantees a lot of rights to people who are being investigated for a crime. While law enforcement and other anti-crime advocates see these rights as frivolous and silly, in reality, they are some of the only things keeping the government from watching everything we do and becoming a police state.

One of these Fifth Amendment rights is the one against compelled self-incrimination. There are a lot of ways that you can provide evidence that you’ve committed a crime. One of them is by writing it down. However, just because you wrote something that could be used against you does not mean that law enforcement can force you to turn it over. Instead, the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment can protect you.

Protections of the Self-Incrimination Clause

The whole point of the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause is to prevent law enforcement from being able to force you to use your own words against yourself in court. This strips police of any ability to use torture to bring out evidence of a crime, which was something that terrified the Founding Fathers. It also allows suspects a way to avoid a situation where they can either admit to a crime, lie under oath, or refuse to answer a question and risk being in contempt of court.

Your own words, however, do not have to be spoken to potentially incriminate you for a crime, though. Luckily, courts have recognized this, and have applied the Fifth Amendment’s protections to written words, as well.

Self-Incrimination and the Production of Documents

If you’re under investigation for a crime, police will likely demand that you produce any documentation relevant to the case by issuing a subpoena. These are especially common in white collar crime investigations.

However, the Fifth Amendment’s self-incrimination clause extends to those documents. When it does, then you have the option to “plead the Fifth” instead of complying with the demands of the subpoena.

Unfortunately, there are numerous exceptions to this rule. For example, if the documents being demanded in the subpoena are part of a corporation’s records, then the Fifth Amendment doesn’t apply. Likewise, if the documents are required to be kept under law, or if those documents had been turned over to a third party, then the Fifth Amendment’s rights against self-incrimination can’t block a subpoena’s request.

Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

When it comes to written words, the Fifth Amendment’s right against compelled self-incrimination can provide help. While there are numerous exceptions that could mean those rights don’t extend to your case, the only way to know for sure is by discussing your options with a criminal defense attorney. If you’re under investigation for a crime in the state of Maine and are being subpoenaed to turn over documents, reach out to criminal defense attorney William T. Bly to help plan your defense. Contact his law office online or at (207) 571-8146.

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