What is the 5th Amendment? - Definition, Summary & Court Cases

What is the 5th Amendment? - Definition, Summary & Court Cases
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  • 1:10 Double Jeopardy Clause
  • 2:45 The Right to Remain Silent
  • 3:57 Due Process Clause
  • 5:03 Eminent Domain
  • 6:06 Right to Grand Jury
  • 6:36 Military Tribunals
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the history of the 5th Amendment, as well as its different clauses and some of the court cases that have relied upon it. Afterwards, you can test your new knowledge with a quiz!

Definition of the 5th Amendment

Can you imagine being tortured into a confession by the police? Or what about being held for a crime without being tried? Or having your house taken away by the government without getting paid for it? Fortunately, if you live in the United States, you won't have to worry about these questions. This is because of the 5th amendment.

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution provides some of the most important fundamental rights that an individual has in legal matters. It states:

'No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.'

From here, we'll examine the specific clauses of the 5th Amendment, so you can more fully understand the implications behind these words.

Double Jeopardy Clause

Imagine you have been put on trial in criminal court for six grueling weeks for a crime you didn't commit. Finally, the verdict comes in from the jury, and you're found to be innocent! But as you celebrate, the furious prosecutor serves you with another warrant and notifies you that you will be tried again by a different jury for the same crime. Doesn't sound fair, does it?

The double jeopardy clause of the 5th Amendment protects that from happening, saying 'nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.' Originally, the double jeopardy clause only applied to federal crimes, but the federal government has ruled that it applies to state and local governments as well because of the 14th amendment.

The framers of the Constitution included this clause because of the many infractions that occurred in England under the English throne. For one, the royal crown would sometimes order the retrial of an acquitted person if the crown didn't like that person. With this in mind, James Madison included the double jeopardy clause in the Constitution to avoid such an injustice.

However, the double jeopardy clause doesn't always protect you from being taken to court for the same crime twice. This is because, in the United States, there are two types of courts - civil courts and criminal courts. If you are acquitted of a crime in a criminal court, the 5th amendment protects you from being tried in criminal court again. However, you are not immune from being sued over the same incident in civil court. Take, for example, the case of OJ Simpson. He was acquitted of murder in criminal court in 1995, but was sued for wrongful death on the same case in civil court.

The Right to Remain Silent

In the 17th century, a Puritan named John Lilburne was put on trial. At that time, Puritans were discriminated against in England and Lilburne was protesting their treatment. Lilburne was accused of trying to smuggle in Puritan pamphlets. The English Court wanted him to take an oath, swearing he would tell the truth. Lilburne, a Puritan who considered lying a sin, refused to take the oath because he would just incriminate himself! As a result, Lilburne was brutally whipped. Although Parliament later declared his punishment illegal, the call came to preserve a person's right against self-incrimination.

This historical background was what the Framers of the Constitution were working with. You've probably heard of someone 'pleading a fifth.' This is the right to remain silent, which allows a person being questioned to remain silent so as to not incriminate themselves. So, it's no wonder that the framers felt it important to include the 5th Amendment.

Today, the right to remain silent applies at all stages of the judicial process, including initial interrogation. In fact, in the case Miranda v. Arizona, the Court ruled that you must be informed of your right to remain silent prior to being investigated for a crime.

Due Process Clause

If you have ever gotten a traffic ticket, you know that you will receive a bunch of notices from the Court. Why do you get so many notices? Because according to the due process clause, all people affected by a legal proceeding must be warned and be given adequate time to prepare for the trial. This is called procedural due process. Therefore, one trick to delay a legal proceeding is to ask a judge for more time to prepare a defense. But don't irk the judge too much, since there is a limitation on how long you can delay the trial. The due process clause also demands that the judge be impartial. If the judge is familiar with any party involved in the proceeding, they are required to recuse themselves.

Under the Constitution's due process clause, the Supreme Court has also exercised substantive due process. This has to do with how laws are applied in legal proceedings. The Court has overturned laws that have infringed on people's rights due to the due process clause. For example, the Court, in Roe v. Wade, overturned legislation banning abortion because such laws violated a person's 5th Amendment rights of due process.

Eminent Domain

What if the government wants to build a highway, but your house is in the way? According to the Constitution, the government can actually take away your house - but only if it compensates you for your loss. This process in which the government seizes private property for public purposes is called eminent domain.

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