On CNN a few weeks ago, they had footage of one of the White House party crashers who was called before Congress; he refuses to answer any question, and one of the Representatives asks him, can you at least tell us your name and that you are actually here? The crasher turns to his lawyer and then refuses to answer the question, pleading the 5th amendment.
Why wouldn’t his lawyer allow him to answer the self-evident fact of his existence and presence before congress? Is there some legal reason?
Weren’t they angling for a reality show? I would assume that they would not want to answer anything that may hurt their chances.
That said, I don’t understand the name thing either. It bugs the hell out of me when people in real life or TV shows refuse to answer simple questions like that. Just say your fucking name god damn it!
My understanding is that if you are under oath, you can’t pick and choose what you wolll take the 5th on. You either take it as a blanket or waive it as a blanket.
Also, I think most lawyers are just going to tell clients to kep their mouths shut on general principles because people can say all kinds of things against their own interests without meaning to or planning to. You can rarely do yourself any good by talking, and your odds of doing yourself harm are always better than even, even if you’re innocent.
This. Something I saw a long time ago said that answering any questions, even a simple question about your name or if your chair is comfortable could be seen as waiving your right to refuse to answer other questions. I think the guy that kept asking those simple questions knew this too and was hoping to get Party Crasher to slip up.
I don’t know how it works before Congress, but it does not work that way in my state courts. I had a divorce case recently–think I have mentioned it here in earlier threads–where the Defendant was charged with various crimes against my client. He was required to take the witness stand, and the Judge evaluated whether he could assert the 5th Amendment privilege on a question by question basis. She allowed him to refuse to answer questions like “Isn’t it true that you shot my client on such and such date?” because he was still facing prosecution on charges from that incident, but required him to answer other questions, such as “Isn’t it true that you were convicted of misdemeanor assault against my client on (earlier date for separate incident)?”. He was also required to answer questions about his income, assets, employment, etc.
Congress cannot force you to waive your right against self incrimination.
It’s no different than it being not OK to skip court, but perfectly fine to take the 5th once you’re there.
Of course, if either the court or Congress really wants to hear your answer, they can grant you immunity - meaning that your answers wouldn’t incriminate you, and therefore you have no right to refuse to answer under the protection against self-incrimination. Note, however, that you could still get in trouble for lying while you speak under a grant of immunity.
Failing to appear could get you charged with Contempt of Congress.
But if you appear, and refuse to testify, that’s fine, because the Fifth Amendment protects you from ever being a witness against yourself. (This applies both to court proceedings and sworn testimony in a legislative setting.)
In state court you are going to be required as a practical matter to identify yourself and if not they will pursue it. In Congress, it is a show, and they don’t charge contempt for being entertaining. Everybody knows who this guy is, that it is the right guy, etc. I would advise my client to identify himself, but that might not be how Congressional testimony works, I don’t remember. But from what I do know about politics, this sort of thing is a circus, a show and grandstanding. Refusing to state your own name is excellent theater.
For example, in Congress, the lawyers whisper in the ear of the witness instead of objecting out loud in many instances. Lawyers cannot whisper in the ear of a client in a state court setting, that is coaching the witness, a strict no-no. But in Congress, nobody does anything about it and it is a great show.
I’ve lost track of all the details, but isn’t one of the issues in this case whether the party-crasher’s names were on certain guest lists? If so, the lawyer might have a concern that admitting to the name, in this particular situation, might be an incriminating answer.
But isn’t untruthful to (effectively) say that ‘telling you my name may incriminate me’? It may make it seem like you’re giving up your right to invoke the 5th, maybe, but how could them knowing your name incriminate you?
No, because in that case you are not saying that it will incriminate you, just that somehow, just maybe, billion-to-one, it just might possibly perhaps incriminate you.
Kinda like my saying that the earth might be obliterated in the next 15 minutes. Yeah, nothing you want to bet money one, but who knows when one of Skald the Rhymer’s crazy inventions is gonna go horribly wrong?
It may be a reach, but it’s an interesting one. Suppose the prosecutor in D.C. District Court (or wherever they try the case) makes the case to the jury “This man was charged with crashing the White House party. He told a Congressional committee in sworn testimony that his name is X. X isn’t on the guest list. Therefore, this man is guilty of party-crashing.”
So even though the crasher can’t be compelled to testify at his own trial, the prosecution has already tried to incriminate him on the basis of that one question he would have answered before Congress.