When you are facing criminal charges, one of the most important things you can do is to ensure that your rights are being respected. There are a variety of rights that you have. One of these is the right to not incriminate yourself, which is granted to you by the Fifth Amendment. This is where the phrase "plead the Fifth" comes from.
What does it mean to be protected from self-incrimination?
Being protected from self-incrimination means that you don't have to testify against yourself. This protection means that you don't have to serve as a witness during a criminal trial regarding your case. If you opt to plead the Fifth, the jury isn't allowed to consider that fact when they are determining the verdict. The prosecutor is forbidden from inferring that because you wouldn't testify, you are guilty of the accusations against you.
What does the Fifth Amendment cover regarding self-incrimination?
The Fifth Amendment only covers your spoken testimony and written testimony. It doesn't extend to blood tests and fingerprinting. It also doesn't pertain to DNA evidence. The Fifth Amendment only gives rights to the defendants in a case. It doesn't give the witnesses right to avoid testifying in a trial. A witness can opt not to answer a question in a trial if it would implicate him or her in a criminal matter.
Understanding your rights throughout the criminal justice process can help you to learn what you should do and what you shouldn't do. Certain violations of your rights can also have an effect on your defense, so make sure you let your legal representation know if you feel your rights are violated.
Source: FindLaw, "Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination," accessed Sep. 10, 2015