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Can I Refuse to Testify in My Personal Injury Case?

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Lovers of courtroom dramas should be intimately familiar with the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution as nearly every individual on television who is charged with committing a crime invokes this provision to avoid having to testify. The Fifth Amendment is indeed a powerful protection for those accused of committing a crime. By invoking this provision, the witness can refuse to provide any information or answer to the attorney asking him or her questions if those answers or information would have a tendency to incriminate the witness.

A defendant charged with a crime can invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer any questions at all, regardless of whether the answer to those questions would tend to incriminate the defendant. Personal injury plaintiffs, on the other hand, do not generally enjoy this protection.

Generally, No Fifth Amendment Protections for Personal Injury Plaintiffs 

In the vast majority of personal injury cases, however, the Fifth Amendment does not act to prevent you as the injured plaintiff from having to testify. Even if you choose not to testify during the presentation of your case, the defense is able to call you as a witness during its case and ask you questions. If the questions do not call for an answer that would result in you providing incriminating information about yourself, you may be compelled to answer even if the question hurts your case.

Example: You were hurt in an auto accident. The defense calls you as a witness as part of its case. The defense attorney asks you, “How many hours of sleep did you get the night before?” You would be compelled to answer this question even if the answer was only one hour as driving while drowsy is not a criminal offense in Florida. However, if the defense were to ask you if you had consumed any alcohol before driving (and you have been charged with but not convicted of any criminal offense yet), you may invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege if you did, in fact, consume alcohol before driving.

Note that the Fifth Amendment would not protect you from testifying about criminal activity if you have already been convicted of an offense arising out of that criminal activity or cannot be prosecuted for that criminal activity (because, for example, you have been granted immunity from prosecution or because the Double Jeopardy Clause would prevent you from being retried). Thus, if you had already been convicted of driving while intoxicated, you could not use the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions about whether you had consumed alcohol before driving.

Trust Roman & Roman to Help Protect Your Rights and Ability to Recover Compensation 

When you have been injured in a Florida car wreck or other injury accident, turn to the experienced Florida personal injury lawyers at Roman & Roman to help maximize your chances of recovering full and fair compensation for your injuries. We can help you exercise your legal rights – including your Fifth Amendment rights – and keep you from jeopardizing your freedom as well as your right to recover compensation. Call us today at 877-767-1032, or contact us online.

Resource:

law.cornell.edu/constitution/fifth_amendment

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