Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment in New York civil probe. What does that mean?

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Former President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he invoked the Fifth Amendment during a deposition as part of the New York attorney general's civil investigation into the Trump Organization's finances. The attorney general's office confirmed this.

"I once asked, 'If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?' Now I know the answer to that question," Trump wrote, citing a “politically motivated Witch Hunt” against himself and his allies.

“Pleading the Fifth” may have gained notoriety in pop culture by way of TV crime shows and movies, but there’s more to the constitutional right than meets the eye. Here’s what you need to know about the Fifth Amendment.

New York civil probe: Trump says he invoked 5th Amendment in deposition for New York investigation

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he departs Trump Tower, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York, on his way to the New York attorney general's office for a deposition in a civil investigation.
Former President Donald Trump gestures as he departs Trump Tower, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York, on his way to the New York attorney general's office for a deposition in a civil investigation.

What is the Bill of Rights?

The Fifth Amendment is one of 12 original proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, put forth on Sept. 25, 1789, by the First Congress, according to the National Archives. Ten of those proposed 12 amendments, Articles 3 to 12, were ratified in December 1791 by three-fourths of the state legislatures; they became the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights.

What does the Fifth Amendment say?

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution reads:

"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."

What is the Fifth Amendment, in simple terms?

The Fifth Amendment can be broken down into five constitutional rights, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute:

  1. The right to answer for crimes only when "on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury."

  2. The prohibition of double jeopardy, or being prosecuted twice for the same offense.

  3. The prohibition of being a witness against yourself, or being forced to self-incriminate.

  4. The right to due process, or a fair trial.

  5. The guarantee that the government cannot seize private property without compensation at market value of the property.

The amendment at first applied only to federal courts but has since been partially incorporated to the states through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, according to the Legal Information Institute. The first of the listed rights is the only one that has not been incorporated to the states.

Which right did Trump invoke?

When people "plead" or "take" the Fifth, it usually refers to the right not to self-incriminate. That's what Trump invoked in declining to answer the New York attorney general's office's questions.

That right was broadened with the Supreme Court's landmark Miranda v. Arizona ruling that led to the famous Miranda warning about the right to remain silent and to have an attorney with you while being questioned in police custody.

How do you invoke the Fifth Amendment?

Invoking the Fifth Amendment looks different in different settings, according to the Legal Information Institute. If you are being questioned by government investigators, it usually means exercising the right to remain silent. In trial, "taking the Fifth" is declining to testify in your own defense.

Does pleading the Fifth make you guilty?

In criminal cases, the prosecution may not comment on the decision to invoke Fifth Amendment rights and the jury is prohibited from drawing an adverse inference. But in civil cases, like Trump's, that's not always the case.

“While his silence can’t be used against him in a criminal case, it can be used against him in the AG’s civil case," former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told USA TODAY. "If he is sued, jurors may be instructed they should presume his answers would have hurt him.”

Why does the Fifth Amendment exist?

The Supreme Court wrote in 1956 that the privilege against self-incrimination “registers an important advance in the development of our liberty – one of the great landmarks in man's struggle to make himself civilized."

In 1964, the court wrote that it “reflects many of our fundamental values and most noble aspirations.” Among those ideals: preventing people from being tortured into confessing or being shoehorned into a “cruel trilemma of self-accusation, perjury or contempt” of court.

What are the limitations of the Fifth Amendment?

The witness has to be facing a genuine risk of criminal prosecution, said Paul Cassell, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah. That means prosecution on any charge in any U.S. court.

Though there are sometimes disputes over whether the right is being invoked inappropriately, “the courts have generally thought that they should give the benefit of the doubt to someone who might be criminally prosecuted, rather than force someone to testify and then learn: ‘Whoops!’” Cassell said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the Fifth Amendment? What does it mean to invoke it?