Innocent Can Invoke 5th Amendment Right

2001

In Ohio v. Reiner, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination “protects the innocent as well as the guilty.” Charged with killing his son Alex, Matthew Reiner pleaded not guilty. His defense lawyers accused the baby sitter, Susan Batt, of the crime. Batt was granted immunity after she asserted her innocence and informed the court that she planned to invoke her right against self-incrimination. After the jury convicted Reiner, he appealed to the state’s high court, questioning Batt’s Fifth Amendment right. The state court agreed with Reiner, maintaining that a person waives that right upon declaring herself innocent. An innocent witness, the state court says, cannot incriminate herself and is deprived of Fifth Amendment protection. The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the decision, saying that for witnesses to invoke their right against self-incrimination, they have to show only that there is “reasonable cause” to believe testifying could put them in legal jeopardy.