When is it OK to plead the Fifth Amendment?

by Randy Collins on June 6, 2013

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The Fifth Amendment is usually described as protecting the rights of criminal defendants, but, since anyone can be accused of crimes, the amendment actually extends to all citizens. Although the Constitution does not specifically say so, it establishes an accusatorial rather than an inquisitorial system. Thus, the Fifth Amendment is based on the presumption that a person is legally innocent until he or she is proven guilty, and that it is better for guilty individuals to remain unpunished than for any innocent person to be wrongly convicted. Perhaps even more broadly, these amendments rest on an understanding that individuals do not cease to be persons deserving of humane treatment even when judged guilty.

Recent Sex Crime Witness Pleads the Fifth

Robert Pimental, a former teacher is presently facing charges of molesting 11 school children during the 2011-12 school year. Pimental was a teacher at the George De La Torre Elementary School in Wilmington. Irene Hinojosa was the school principal during that period. She stepped down in April 2012.

Hinojosa was called to the witness stand to testify in the case during the preliminary hearing. At the hearing she invoked her Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer even the most basic of questions. The prosecution wanted to question her in order to show that she had previously warned Pimental about his inappropriate touching of the students. The prosecution also wanted to establish that she had authored a report which stated that Pimental had a heightened sex drive as he was on medication. Both Hinojosa and Pimental resigned from the Los Angeles Unified School District on the same day. Prosecutors do not believe that Hinojosa is part of any criminal investigation.

Why the Fifth Amendment Exists

The expression “taking the Fifth” is a description of the Fifth Amendment, which ensures that individuals in criminal cases will not be compelled to testify against themselves. This guarantee applies only in criminal cases. The unstated premise here is that it is the government’s duty to provide evidence against defendants and not the responsibility of the defendants themselves; this is the essence of an accusatorial, rather than an inquisitorial, system. Moreover, current laws and penalties prevent adverse comments on individuals’ decisions to exercise their rights. Certainly, there are cases in which innocent persons fear they will not present a believable appearance in court, and the Fifth Amendment is designed to ensure that their rights are protected. Under current law, individuals on trial cannot exercise their Fifth Amendment rights on a selective basis. That is, they may choose to testify or not, but once on the stand, they cannot individually select which questions they would decline to answer for fear of incriminating themselves.

Criminal Defense Legal Information

For more information about the Fifth Amendment, or to set up a free case evaluation from experienced legal professionals, call 949-250-6097 or visit www.cmcdefense.com. Randy Collins and Ronald MacGregor, MacGregor & Collins firm partners, are dedicated to providing California citizens with top-notch legal information, even if they do not retain their services.

Randy Collins
Randy Collins is an Orange County, California criminal defense attorney that assists those who have been charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses. When I am not assisting people with their legal matters I enjoy sports, legal research, and spending time with my family.
Randy Collins
Randy Collins

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