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No ‘Magic Words’ Needed To Trigger 5th Amendment Privilege


In Emspak v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee who refused to answer certain questions about his affiliation with the Communist Party is protected by the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination. The Court says the witness should not have been convicted and fined for contempt. The Court holds that for a witness to be allowed not to answer a question on Fifth Amendment grounds, he need not say any particular phrase: “All that is necessary is an objection stated in language that a committee may reasonably be expected to understand as an attempt to invoke the privilege.”