Bill of Rights: Protection from self-incrimination

“…nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,”   — (Fifth Amendment, U.S. Constitution)

On a recent afternoon, I was driving in Arlington, Texas, when I noticed a police car making what appeared to be a routine traffic stop.  What made this stop different from most is that the police officer approached the stopped vehicle with his gun drawn, clutched with both hands, arms fully extended– he definitely intended to shoot if he had to.  Seconds later, three other police cars arrived with lights flashing and sirens wailing.  The driver of the stopped car got out and was immediately handcuffed.  He was then seated inside a police car.  The arrest itself would have made a dramatic photo, but I was in traffic myself and unable to pull over in time to catch the handcuffs.  I do not know what the offense was, but evidently it was serious. 

In the United States, when someone is arrested for criminal activity they must be told about their constitutional rights.  This process is known as the “Miranda warning”, and the rights include protection from self-incrimination as spelled out in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. constitution.  The Miranda warning is often a dramatic element of television dramas, and usually begins with the words, “You have the right to remain silent…”  

A warning of this kind is hardly a recent innovation and certainly not an original idea in the United States.  Something like it, in a  British version, is found in the Sherlock Holmes story “A Sign of Four”, as Thaddeus Sholto is arrested by officer Athelney Jones:  “Mr. Sholto, it is my duty to inform you that anything which you may say will be used against you. I arrest you in the Queen’s name as being concerned in the death of your brother.”  

I have another “We’ll See” entry about the fifth amendment.  See my entry dated May 20, 2010 (  Also, search for Bill of Rights in my search field at the top of this page.



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