Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Fifth Amendment: Rights of Persons - Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
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The Fifth Amendment: Rights of Persons - James McClellan, Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government 
Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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The Fifth Amendment: Rights of Persons
Here we have a complex of old rights at law that were intended to protect people from arbitrary treatment by the possessors of power, especially in actions at law. The common law assumes that a person is innocent until he is proven guilty. This amendment reasserts the ancient requirement that if a person is to be tried for a major crime, he must first be indicted by a grand jury. In addition, no person may be tried twice for the same offense. Also, an individual cannot be compelled in criminal cases to testify against himself, “nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”; and the public authorities may not take private property without just compensation to the owner.
The immunity against being compelled to be a witness against one’s self is often invoked in ordinary criminal trials and in trials for subversion or espionage. This right, like others in the Bill of Rights, is not absolute. A person who “takes the Fifth”—that is, refuses to answer questions in a court because his answers might incriminate him—thereby raises “a legitimate presumption” in the court that he has done something for which he might be punished by the law. If offered immunity from prosecution in return for giving testimony, either he must comply or else expect to be jailed, and kept in jail, for contempt of court. And, under certain circumstances, a judge or investigatory body such as a committee of Congress may refuse to accept a witness’s contention that he would place himself in danger of criminal prosecution were he to answer any questions.
The Fifth Amendment’s due process requirement was originally a procedural right that referred to methods of law enforcement. If a person was to be deprived of his life, liberty or property, such a deprivation had to conform to the common law standards of “due process.” The Amendment required a procedure, as Daniel Webster once put it, that “hears before it condemns, proceeds upon inquiries, and renders judgment only after a trial” in which the basic principles of justice have been observed.
The prohibition against taking private property for public use without just compensation is a restriction on the Federal government’s power of eminent domain. Federal courts have adopted a rule of interpretation that the “taking” must be “direct” and that private property owners are not entitled to compensation for indirect loss incidental to the exercise of governmental powers. Thus the courts have frequently held that rent-control measures, limiting the amount of rent which may be charged, are not a “taking,” even though such measures may decrease the value of the property or deprive the owners of rental income. As a general rule, Federal courts have not since 1937 extended the same degree of protection to property rights as they have to other civil rights.