Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791. The first 10 amendments form the Bill of Rights.
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 offence 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.
Grand Jury Protection: The Fifth Amendment requirement that serious federal criminal charges be started by a grand jury (a group of citizens who hear evidence from a prosecutor about potential crimes) is rooted in English common law. Its basic purpose is to provide a fair method for beginning criminal proceedings against those accused of committing crimes. Grand jury charges can be issued against anyone except members of the military, who are instead subject to courts-martial in the military justice system.
To avoid giving government unchecked powers, grand jurors are selected from the general population and their work, conducted in secret, is not hampered by rigid rules about the type of evidence that can be heard. In fact, grand jurors can act on their own knowledge and are free to start criminal proceedings on any information that they think relevant.
It is these broad powers that have led some critics to charge that grand juries are little more than puppets of prosecutors. Grand juries also serve an investigative role-because grand juries can compel witnesses to testify in the absence of their lawyers.
A significant number of states do not use grand juries, instead they begin criminal proceedings using informations or indictments. The right to a grand jury is one of only a few protections in the Bill of Rights that has not been applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Protection against Double Jeopardy: This portion of the Fifth Amendment protects individuals from being “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”—that is, in danger of being punished more than once for the same criminal act. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the double jeopardy clause to protect against a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal or conviction and against multiple punishments for the same crime. Like other provisions in the Bill of Rights that affect criminal prosecutions, the double jeopardy clause is rooted in the idea that the government should not have unlimited power to prosecute and punish criminal suspects. Rather, the government gets only one chance to make its case.
Right against Self-Incrimination: This provision of the Fifth Amendment is probably the best-known of all constitutional rights, as it appears frequently on television and in movies—whether in dramatic courtroom scenes (“I take the Fifth!”) or before the police question someone in their custody (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do say can be used against you in a court of law.”). The right protects a person from being forced to reveal to the police, prosecutor, judge, or jury any information that might subject him or her to criminal prosecution. Even if a person is guilty of a crime, the Fifth Amendment demands that the prosecutors come up with other evidence to prove their case. If police violate the Fifth Amendment by forcing a suspect to confess, a court may suppress the confession, that is, prohibit it from being used as evidence at trial.
The right to remain silent also means that a defendant has the right not to take the witness stand at all during his or her trial, and that the prosecutor cannot point to the defendant’s silence as evidence of guilt. There are, however, limitations on the right against self-incrimination. For example, it applies only to testimonial acts, such as speaking, nodding, or writing. Other personal information that might be incriminating, like blood or hair samples, DNA or fingerprints, may be used as evidence. Similarly, incriminating statements that an individual makes voluntarily—such as when a suspect confesses to a friend or writes in a personal diary—are not protected.
Right to Due Process: The right to due process of law has been recognized since 1215, when the Magna Carta (the British charter) was adopted. Historically, the right protected people accused of crimes from being imprisoned without fair procedures (like indictments and trials, where they would have an opportunity to confront their accusers). The right of due process has grown in two directions: It affords individuals a right to a fair process (known as procedural due process) and a right to enjoy certain fundamental liberties without governmental interference (known as substantive due process). The Fifth Amendment’s due process clause applies to the federal government’s conduct. In 1868 the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment expanded the right of due process to include limits on the actions of state governments.
Today, court decisions interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process right generally apply to the Fifth Amendment and vice versa.
Takings Clause: The takings clause of the Fifth Amendment strikes a balance between the rights of private property owners and the right of the government to take that property for a purpose that benefits the public at large. When the government takes private property, it is required to pay just compensation to the property owner for his or her loss. The takings power of the government, sometimes referred to as the power of eminent domain, may be used for a wide range of valid public uses (for a highway or a park, for example). For the most part, when defining just compensation, courts try to reach some approximation of market value.
Annenberg Classroom connects an award-winning, comprehensive multimedia curriculum on the Constitution to daily civics news and articles that support in-class and online student discussion. Annenberg Classroom also includes FlackCheck.org, an excellent resource for teaching political literacy skills. Annenberg Classroom is presented by the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
The Fifth Amendment guarantees five rights of a very diverse nature. The most popularly known right in the Fifth Amendment, the right against self-incrimination in criminal cases, is commonly referred to as “taking the Fifth.” Other rights in the Fifth Amendment include the right to have serious criminal charges screened by a grand jury; to avoid being tried twice for the same offense; to have due process of law; and to receive just compensation when private property is taken for public use. The longest amendment in the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment is a hodgepodge of provisions affecting both criminal law and civil law. But all of them limit the power of the government to take action against the individual.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.