You might have heard the term “plead the Fifth” when you’re watching a television show or movie that’s about a criminal matter. If you’re facing charges for anything, this is a phrase with which you might need to familiarize yourself. It may come in handy as your case moves through the court system.

In short, you don’t have to have to answer questions that might lead to you being found guilty of a crime. This includes questions while you’re in police custody or while you’re in court. The protection means that you can’t be forced by anyone, including the judge or prosecutor, to get on the witness stand.

One important distinction for a person who wants to invoke this protection on the witness stand is that you can’t pick and choose what to answer. If you plead the Fifth, you must do so completely. This means you don’t answer anything that’s asked of you.

Some defendants who plead the Fifth think that the fact they invoked this right will automatically mean that they can be found guilty. A ruling in 2001 by the United States Supreme Court found that no presumption of guilt can be made in these cases. While this is a recent decision, it is one that backs up another ruling.

If you’re considering invoking your right to avoid self-incrimination, be sure you understand how it might impact your criminal case. Taking the time to develop your defense strategy is always beneficial in these cases. Your attorney can help you to determine whether this is a suitable component for your defense.