Constitutional Rights in Philadelphia Criminal Drug & Gun Cases – The 5th Amendment (Part 1)

As in all states, constitutional law is the bedrock of the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania. The U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania’s Constitution apply in all criminal cases in this state, such as possession with intent to deliver or unlawful possession of a firearm.

The federal constitution and its constitutional protections form a floor or minimum. States must, at the very least, abide by federal constitutional law. States are free to expand on those minimum laws and provide greater, not lesser, protections.

Violations of constitutional protections often occur in criminal cases. They commonly involve:

  • the 4th Amendment (right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures),
  • the 5th Amendment (the right to free from self-incrimination), and
  • the 6th Amendment (the right to an attorney).

This article will discuss the 5th Amendment only. Click here for a discussion of the 4th amendment in Philadelphia drug/gun cases. Stay tuned for an article on the 6th Amendment right to an attorney in criminal cases.


The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides multiple protections including double jeopardy and due process. However, one of the most common 5th Amendment protections at issue is the right to be free from self-incrimination, i.e., the right to remain silent. The 5th Amendment provides:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. (emphasis added)

Related: Silence is Golden [Always exercise your right to remain silent.]

In a nutshell, the 5th Amendment prevents the government from forcing citizens to give a statement or otherwise testify at any proceeding or trial.

In Philadelphia, some of the most common cases are drug cases and gun possession cases. The 5th Amendment usually comes into play during drug/gun investigations and after arrest. Also, the 5th Amendment is often at issue in murder or attempted murder cases in Philadelphia. Click here for part 2 of this article which discusses the 5th Amendment in the context of drug/gun cases.


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