The Fifth Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about mostly misunderstood.

Amaryllis Fox: The fifth amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America says no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury except in cases arising in the land or naval forces or in the militia when an actual service in time of war or public danger. Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb. Nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation. 

So for me, the fifth amendment is really the big Kahuna. I have lived and worked in many countries where the seizing of life and liberty and property without due process of law was an everyday event. And we fought that kind of tyranny in order to establish this young upstart of a country that we all treasure. And this is not an easy amendment to enforce and it’s one that really requires our constant vigilance. I mean, we have seen in times of challenge and war in this country this amendment be compromised from Japanese internment camps during the war to the drone assassination of an American citizen al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. We see extrajudicial killings happen with alarming regularity on the streets of our county in law enforcement contexts. And when I look at extrajudicial killings in other parts of the world and the ease with which law enforcement become judge and jury on behalf of the citizens and take that power over somebody’s life and liberty and property to themselves. It’s a slippery slope and it’s a slope that always begins with some sense of emergency, some contingency situation where just now, just this once, just until we resolve this emergency it’s warranted. But it is exactly those instances that we have these amendments for. It’s very difficult to make the right decision in moments of fear and that’s why we did the thinking in advance. And when we look at what we’re called to protect in the fifth amendment it wasn’t drafted with the intention that it should only be exercised when life on the streets of the United States is peaceful and tranquil. There’s no need to protect an American citizen against being murdered by their government when things are peaceful and tranquil. The only need for that protection is in times of great tension, strife, conflict, fear, and threat. And those are the times when this amendment is most important. We’re in one of those periods of our history right now and I really believe that it’s the duty of every American to honor the beauty and power of that amendment by being constantly vigilant that we enforce it.

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.

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