The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Conrad Murray Trial: Testifying and the Fifth Amendment

Defense attorneys in the Conrad Murray trial are expected to begin their case on Friday, but one star witness may not be on the list of people they plan to question: Dr. Conrad Murray, himself. While news sources have speculated and opined whether he will and should testify, it’s Murray’s constitutionally-protected decision to not do so.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, individuals are given the right to refuse to answer any questions or make any statements that may incriminate themselves. The phrase I “plead the Fifth” is used to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination and is often used in the popular media.

The privilege extends beyond the criminal investigation to the trial, which allows criminal defendants to decide whether or not they should testify on the stand. Jury members are not allowed to use a defendant's decision not to testify as evidence of guilt. Further, even a defendant's lawyer cannot force the defendant to take the witness stand, regardless of whether or not he or she thinks it would be helpful to the defendant's case. If the defendant does testify, his privilege against self-incrimination is seen as waived.

Some famous examples of defendants who decided not to take the stand are Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, and O.J. Simpson, the former football player accused of killing his wife and her friend. In both cases, the jury ended up acquitting the defendants despite their not taking the stand.

Whether Conrad Murray decides to follow their examples remains to be seen as the defense's case unfolds; however, it is his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to not testify if he so chooses.

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