An Amendment Linking Fine
Americans & Notorious Hacks
It all may have started with the number of fingers. To write a full post about a particularly random number between, say 1 to 10, is, of course, a fool’s run. But, as your uncle Bob once said, after having a few at the local water hole, ‘life ain’t worthy without taking chances,’ while tossing you up in the air. We’re taking the fifth and running with it.
Constitutionally, as you may remember, the expression is often associated with tax dodgers, counselor-instructed crime bosses and your garden-variety white-collar crook. Historically, though, it may have had its defining moment during the 1950s, with Senator Joseph McCarthy-led infamous witch hunt of many fine American artists and intellectuals and their supposedly illegal activities.
For those who need a refresher, the Fifth is the amendment of the U.S. Constitution designed to protect the accused of self-incrimination, and of being ‘deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’ It’s often associated with the Miranda Warning, given by the police to criminal suspects, before they can be interrogated in the presence of an attorney.
Such association is not casual and stems from the 1966 case of Ernesto Miranda, who was arrested for stealing $8, and told the cops he’d also kidnapped and raped a woman a few days earlier. He was neither told that he could have a lawyer present during questioning, nor that he had the right to remain silent.
Miranda was promptly convicted based on his confession and sentenced to twenty years in prison. But, as his lawyers appealed, the Supreme Court eventually ruled that his self-incriminating statement was not admissible in court and that law enforcement officials must establish safeguards to protect this right of the individual being questioned. Thus the Miranda ruling.
As for McCarthy, surprise surprise, he succumbed to its own paranoia, was censured by the Senate in 1954, and died of alcohol-related hepatitis three years later. The damage he caused was already irreversible to many movie professionals, though, as Hollywood slammed its doors to them, helped by secret files that the likes of Ronald Reagan and others compiled on them.
THE RULE & THE ASSUMPTION
The episode, however sad, became emblematic in the way it showed the Constitution as a defense mechanism to protect citizens against a dangerous nut in power such as McCarthy, even when it’s not as swift as needed. The same about the Miranda case, which may serve (more)
* The Other Fourth