The term “plead the fifth” is one of the most widely recognized pleadings in the United States. It is based upon the 5th Amendment (Fifth Amendment) within the Constitution of the United States. The Fifth Amendment prohibits government officials from abusing their authority during legal proceedings.
It also protects individuals from self-incrimination. When an individual chooses to plead the fifth, he/she cannot be required to answer any questions or provide any information that may incriminate him/her. It is similar to the rights outlined within the Miranda rights. When an individual is detained, he/she is permitted to remain silent. This means that he/she is not required to provide authorities with any information. If he/she does choose to answer questions or provide information, the information that he/she details can be used to convict him/her of a criminal offense.
Pleading the fifth is a process that applies specifically to testifying within a court. When an individual is acting as a witness during a trial, he/she can refuse to provide the court with any information that may be used against him/her. If the witness believes that answering a question or testify will provide the court with incriminating information, which may subsequently be used to convict him/her of a crime, than he/she can choose to plead the fifth.
However, when under oath and testifying in a court, an individual must provide information pertaining to the defendant. He/she cannot choose to withhold information that will incriminate the defendant or any other individual. Unless the information incriminates him/her directly, a witness must provide this information.