Indiana attorney explains Fifth Amendment

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — As part of the Derek Chauvin murder trial, a friend of George Floyd’s told a Minnesota court via his attorney that he plans to use something you might not know much about: the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Filed in Minnesota on Wednesday, Morries Lester Hall through his attorney said if called to testify, he will invoke Fifth Amendment privilege against self- incrimination.

For a deeper look inside what the Fifth Amendment means, News 8 spoke to a central Indiana attorney who is not connected to the trial.

Ratified in 1791, the Fifth Amendment is part of the U.S. Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

William Webster, a partner and founder at Webster & Garino LLC in Westfield, said, “Why it’s so important, to give you a little history on this, is how it used to be, is we used to get confessions from people. Sometimes, they would force confessions and they would use those confessions against them in a court proceeding. So, our founders believed it was so important that this practice not be used here in America that they incorporated it into our Bill of Rights.”

The Fifth Amendment offers several protections.

“Basically, what the states, is that no person can be compelled to testify against themselves. We see this more often in criminal cases where we’re asking the criminal defendant, we can’t make that person go on the stand and testify in his own case,” Webster said Friday.

In the Chauvin trial, a friend of Floyd’s who is listed on the prosecutor’s prospective witness list filed a notice of intent to invoke the Fifth Amendment if called to testify.

Webster said, “In this situation, in the George Floyd case, we have a witness that’s invoking the Fifth, which is a little different. But, the witness can answer certain questions. If that witness believes there’s going to be questions asked of him that are incriminating, then he has the Fifth Amendment right to invoke that privilege and not testify.”

Webster said the Fifth Amendment is a right that applies to all Americans, and it cannot only apply to testimony, but also other things such personal actions or even unlocking an electronic communications device.

Webster points to a case he argued before the Indiana Supreme Court in which he said a search warrant had compelled his client to unlock her phone.

“So, what we got into is, is providing a password, is unlocking your electronic device; is that testimonial in nature? Our supreme court found that even unlocking an electronic device is testimonial in nature and she cannot be compelled to do so. So, a lot of times we think of the Fifth Amendment in the context of speaking. But, it can be actions, it can be unlocking your electronic device. It can even be the assembly of documents because you’re admitting these documents exist. So, that Fifth Amendment not only applies to testimony, but it can apply to other things as well.” Webster said.

Fifth Amendment resources