DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL

Derek Chauvin pleads the Fifth Amendment: what is it, and what are the defendant’s rights when they invoke it?

The former Minneapolis police officer will not take the stand to explain his role in the death of George Floyd last summer, chosing instead to plead the Fifth.

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Derek Chauvin pleads the Fifth Amendment: what is it, and what are the defendant’s rights when they invoke it?
POOL VIDEO VIA COURT TV/NY TIMES / ZUMA PRESS / CO EUROPA PRESS

As the trial of Derek Chauvin continues in Minneapolis the defendant has decided to plead the Fifth Amendment, excusing him from testifying in the case relating to the death of George Floyd.

The prosecution had recently finished its case against the former Minneapolis police officer, who has since left the force, and the defence began their case on Tuesday. Chauvin's decision not to testify means that he will not face questions in court from either legal team, and comes after a series of police officers testified that Chauvin’s actions were not reflective of proper police training.

Why did Derek Chauvin invoke the Fifth Amendment in court?

Chauvin’s decision to plead the Fifth came after a series of conversations with his lawyer, the former police officer confirmed on Thursday. The court heard a conversation between Chauvin and defence attorney Eric Nelson, in which Nelson made clear that the decision not to take the stand was Chauvin’s.

Nelson said that he and Chauvin had had a “lengthy meeting” on the subject on Wednesday evening, along with a number of other discussions about the prospect of invoking the Fifth Amendment during the course of the trial.

Chauvin has never publically spoken about the events of last summer that resulted in the death of George Floyd, and informed the judge that he would not do so in court.

Judge Peter Cahill asked the defendant: “Is this your decision not to testify?”

“It is, your honour,” Chauvin replied.

AP report from Minneapolis that Chauvin’s decision to forfeit his right to defend himself will also spare him from facing a barrage of questions from the prosecution: “Testifying could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.”

What is the Fifth Amendment and what are the defendant’s rights?

The term “pleading the Fifth” is a fairly commonly-known phrase that allows defendants in criminal proceedings to choose not to speak in their defence if they wish. Its use stems from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the right against self-incrimination.

The actual language in the Constitution states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

The right to plead the Fifth is available to both defendants and witnesses in criminal cases, but only witnesses are able to wield this power selectively. A defendant must either submit to answering questions from both the defence and the prosecution, or waive their right to defend themselves entirely.

In the case of Derek Chauvin, this means that while he will avoid being put on the stand by the defence, he will also be unable to say anything substantial in court to aid his defence.