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What does it mean to plead the fifth?

Choosing the right line of defense when faced with a criminal charge can be the difference between a conviction and walking free. Of course, it is not quite as simple as it sounds. Every case is different, so a method that works for one person may not apply to you at all. In some cases it may be enough to simply enter a not guilty plea and say nothing more.

Under California law, you are considered innocent unless you can be proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Therefore, as long as your line of defense allows that doubt to be preserved, there may be a chance that you can avoid conviction. But what happens if you were involved in the incident in some way, or if you simply fear that you may be misinterpreted?

Saying the wrong thing in court could have serious consequences. However, you do not have to answer any of the questions posed by police and you are not obliged to testify when you are in court. This is known as pleading the Fifth, as it arises from the Fifth Amendment clause which describes an individual's right not to be forced to bear witness against himself.

As is explained in this article, a jury is not permitted to be influenced by your refusal to testify when they make a decision, unless it is a civil trial. However, in these cases you may choose to plead ignorance instead.

Often, the advice of an attorney can be useful in helping you decide on the course of action to take when faced with criminal charges. A good defense is invaluable, but it can take considerable time and effort to prepare. Nevertheless, with the right guidance and support, you may be able to avoid conviction and preserve your reputation.

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