Plead the Fifth, also used as Take the Fifth, is a phrase often used in the United States legal system and is derived from the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
It refers to the right of an individual to refuse to answer any questions that may incriminate themselves. Essentially, it allows someone to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination in a legal proceeding. So, imagine yourself being interrogated by the police about your involvements in a prank gone wrong, and you decide to put on your serious face and say, “I plead the Fifth!” It’s a way of saying, “Sorry, officer, but you won’t get any information out of me that could potentially get me in trouble!”
The phrase “You have the right to remain silent”, commonly heard by policement in movies, TV series and music videos, also refers to the Fifth Amendment.
Friend: “Did you eat the last slice of pizza?”
You: “I plead the Fifth!”
Friend: “Well, someone’s not confessing to their cheesy crime!”
The origin of “Plead the Fifth” can be traced back to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which was ratified in 1791.
The Fifth Amendment grants citizens protection against self-incrimination and ensures the right to due process. The exact wording states, “No person… shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”
This legal provision arose from English common law and the understanding that individuals should not be forced to participate in their own prosecution. Over time, the phrase “Plead the Fifth” became a colloquial expression used to evoke the protection of this constitutional right.
Eventually, it was the Fifth Amendment, that led to the creation of the Miranda Rights, which have to be read by police officers upon arresting somebody, reminding them of their rights.
The use of “Plead the Fifth” has spread beyond the confines of the legal system and has become a widely recognized phrase in popular culture. It has been featured in various movies, television shows, and even found its way into everyday conversation.
Americans love to invoke their constitutional rights in a lighthearted manner. It adds a touch of drama and comedy to situations where one might prefer to remain silent instead of answering a potentially incriminating question.
So, whether it’s a family gathering or a casual conversation with friends, don’t be surprised if you hear someone casually say, “I plead the Fifth!” to avoid answering a tricky question about their shenanigans.