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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
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In Pennsylvania, do relatives have the right to refuse to speak

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In Pennsylvania, do relatives have the right to refuse to speak with the police and the courts (and give them absolutely no information) if one of their relatives is being investigated for something? Would there be anything wrong with the relatives told the police and courts that they have no desire to provide any information about their relative? In this type of case, what could the police and courts do? Could you explain how this issue ties into fifth amendment protections and the constitutionally protected freedom of speech?
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 3 years ago.
Absolutely, the relatives have no obligation to make any statements at all to the police BUT if they are subpoenaed to court they must show up and they must tell the truth and cannot take the 5th Amendment and not make a statement unless it would implicate you in a crime, so you would have to testify to the truth as there is no relative privilege in this type of case.

If you refuse to testify in court, the court can hold you in contempt and put you in jail. The police can do nothing, but the court can compel testimony. It has nothing to do at all with freedom of speech.


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Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Thanks for the quick response. Hmm, I see the situation with the court. I could be mistaken, but wouldn't it be very easy to circumvent the subpoena issue by just pleading the 5th amendment? The court is not God after all, so how could they realistically know if you are incriminating yourself or not?

Also, how would the refusal to testify have nothing to do with freedom of speech? Like with freedom of religion, I heard that SCOTUS ruled that freedom of religion also means the freedom to reject religion entirely. Clearly, in that respect the court decided that the freedom to do something comes with the freedom of not doing it. With that type of thinking, how could freedom of speech not include the freedom to not do it (refuse to speak when you do not want to)? I'm just really confused by that as it's contradictory logic.
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 3 years ago.
No, you cannot plead the 5th Amendment unless the testimony would incriminate you in a crime, but if it incriminates your family member the 5th does not apply. And even if the testimony would incriminate you, if the DA offers you immunity then they can force you to testify and the 5th Amendment would not apply.

Freedom of speech has nothing to do with your testimony in court, the Supreme Court has never applied religion to court testimony either, so you are comparing apples and oranges.

If you refuse to testify in court and the 5th amendment does not apply, then the court can and will jail you for contempt of court.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
I'm not sure we understood each other. I understand that it's against the rules to plead the 5th when the testimony would not incriminate you. But what I want to know is how would the court know you broke that rule? Also, does this apply to all relatives? Or can a person refuse to testify against a person on the basis that the relative is his/her mother?

Regarding the example I wrote about religion, I was not asking if the court applied religion to testimony. I think we had a misunderstanding there. What I was getting at is that in that particular instance, the court stated that the person's freedom to do something (practice religion freely) includes the right to not exercise the freedom at all (be irreligious). Clearly, in that case the court said that freedom of religion is aXXXXXwhere the person controls both lanes, a bilateral freedom so to speak. My question is why does the same principle not apply to freedom of speech? From what you are telling me, I'm finding out that a person is free to say whatever he pleases but is not free to keep his mouth shut whenever he pleases. In this case, a person only controls one lane, not two. Why doesn't the choice as to whether or not to exercise a freedom apply to every part of the constitution, only select portions of it?
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 3 years ago.
There is no privilege between parent and child under the law, there is only a spousal privilege.

The Supreme Court has held that freedom of speech does not apply to court testimony which can be compelled by law outside of certain privileges, spousal privilege, attorney-client and priest-parishioner. Other than those privileges testimony can be compelled.
Law Educator, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 92477
Experience: Attorney with over 20 years law enforcement, prosecution, civil rights and defense experience
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Law Educator, Esq.
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