Bill of Rights – Fifth Amendment – Protection of Life, Liberty and Property

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution was introduced by James Madison and ratified in 1791. It articulates procedural safeguards designed to protect the rights of the criminally accused and to secure life, liberty, and property.

The amendment has five specific parts:

  • Grand Juries
  • Double Jeopardy
  • Self Incrimination
  • Due Process
  • Takings

Grand Juries – This requires a formal body – a “grand jury” – to make a formal presentment or indictment accused of committing a crime against the laws of the federal government. It is a requirement to ensure that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. (An exception to this is the military.)

Double Jeopardy – This protects citizens against a second prosecution after an acquittal or a conviction, as well as against multiple punishments for the same offense. Caveats to this provision include permissions to try persons for civil and criminal aspects of an offense, conspiring to commit as well as to commit an offense, and separate trials for acts that violate laws of both the federal and state governments, although federal laws generally suppress prosecution by the national government if a person is convicted of the same crime in a state proceeding.

Self-Incrimination – This famous clause protects persons accused or suspected of committing a crime from being forced to testify against themselves. Words and some other pieces of evidence, once presented, can be manipulated, while other objects, such as sobriety tests, police lineups, voice samples, and the like, cannot. It is the state’s responsibility to prove guilt while an individual is presumed innocent until that burden of proof has  been achieved. In order to protect the individual from self-incrimination, the state is required to ensure that the individual understands that he/she has the right to remain silent.  

Due Process – This clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, prohibit all levels of government from arbitrarily or unfairly depriving individuals of their basic constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. These rights originated from English common law and from the Magna Charta. Over time, the Supreme Court has had an on-again, off-again relationship with liberty-based due process challenges, but it has generally abided by the principle that certain rights are “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”

Takings – This clause protect individuals from the government’s ability to acquire private property and provides the foundation for rules governing the acquisition of property. As such, the takings clause empowers the government to exercise eminent domain in order to take private property; however, such takings must be for public use and provide adequate compensation to landowners.

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