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The Fifth Amendment in the Information Age

When we go on line, most of us are unaware of just how visible we are and how easy it is for con artists and fraudsters to use information we provide to relieve us of our possessions or exploit our social connections. While nefarious hackers “phish” for information on the Web, numerous legitimate organizations, such as Skype or the Maryland Health Connection, collect profile information for social or business purposes, but afford only limited privacy rights.  

Fifth Amendment protection online

You may wonder if the Fifth Amendment protect statements made on sites like Facebook. It does protect against compelled self-incrimination. A statement taken in violation of this amendment cannot be used as evidence against the maker of the statement. However, statements made on a social networking site are not protected by the Fifth Amendment. If incriminating statements are protected by a password, and a suspect is asked to provide it by a government agent, the suspect may have a Fifth Amendment right to refuse. Thus, one court held that requiring a suspect to provide a password to a laptop would force her to admit ownership of the laptop and would violate the Fifth Amendment.  

You had the right to remain silent

In Salinas v. Texas, a case involving a double shooting, the police recovered shotgun shells and spoke with a suspect who agreed to go to the police station. He wasn’t in custody and wasn’t given Miranda warnings. He answered questions, but when asked whether he expected that the bullets found on the scene would match his gun, he became silent, looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet. The prosecutor argued that an innocent person would not have been silent, and the jury convicted the defendant. The Supreme Court held that a witness under questioning must “take the Fifth” and expressly invoke the Fifth Amendment to enjoy its protections.

The lessons here are obvious. The target of a criminal investigation should not speak to the investigator without a lawyer present, and what you put out there on the Web may be used against you. The Law Offices of Paul Chatzky is unwavering in its commitment to your defense, working aggressively to ensure that you are appropriately advised and protected.

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