Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Cense

Member
English - Antipodean
Hi

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

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.
However, I am not sure how to correctly interpret the exception clause hi-lighted above.
Does it mean that the exception applies only to the indictment process, or does the exception apply to the entire fifth amendment?
 
  • Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    Which means that in order to make the exception apply to the entire Fifth Amendment it would have to be repositioned at the end of the sentence like this:

    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury; 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; 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.
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    It was written a long time ago, and it probably stayed the way it had been written. There are some unusual idioms there as well, if you have noticed: to be put in jeopardy of life or limb.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    As I read it, the first part, as far as the semi-colon, describes an exemption for the trial of capital crimes at a time of war or a public danger: this allows the military to conduct its own affairs in the field, which is sensible.

    The second part, after the semicolon, states what is true for all people and at all times.

    If you were to wish to make the phrase apply to the whole Amendment, yes, you would (a) have to replace the semicolon by 'and' and (b) place the phrase at the end. However, the consequences of this would be most unfair and unnecessary.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Which means that in order to make the exception apply to the entire Fifth Amendment it would have to be repositioned at the end of the sentence
    Yes, you are correct. It is placed where it is so that it applies only to the provision concerning presentment or indictment. Are you questioning the intent of those who wrote it or are you just trying to clarify a point of grammar?
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    As I read it, the first part, as far as the semi-colon, describes an exemption for the trial of capital crimes at a time of war or a public danger: this allows the military to conduct its own affairs in the field, which is sensible.

    The second part, after the semicolon, states what is true for all people and at all times.

    If you were to wish to make the phrase apply to the whole Amendment, yes, you would (a) have to replace the semicolon by 'and' and (b) place the phrase at the end. However, the consequences of this would be most unfair and unnecessary.
    Do you mean that it would be unfair and unnecessary to allow the military an exemption to operate outside the legislative protections offered by the amendment including the right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law?
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    The "correct interpretation" of the Constitution is a matter of more than two hundred years of jurisprudence, not really a matter for a language-oriented message board.
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    Yes, you are correct. It is placed where it is so that it applies only to the provision concerning presentment or indictment. Are you questioning the intent of those who wrote it or are you just trying to clarify a point of grammar?
    It is more a syntactical issue and its impact on meaning, specifically the position of the exemption clause, the use of semi colons, and if it can be interpreted in more than one way, particularly if it could ever be interpreted to afford the military an exemption from the entire amendment.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Moderator note: this is not a general discussion board in English. It is a place to ask questions and get answers about the meaning and use of specific words and phrases in English, along with discussions of English grammar. Please confine your questions to these areas. Thank you.

     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    The "correct interpretation" of the Constitution is a matter of more than two hundred years of jurisprudence, not really a matter for a language-oriented message board.
    As this is a language forum I am clearly only asking about the meaning that can be extracted from the amendment from a linguistic rather than legal perspective, although it would amuse me no end if the judicial meaning were to entirely gainsay the linguistic interpretation.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    As this is a language forum I am clearly only asking about the meaning that can be extracted from the amendment from a linguistic rather than legal perspective, although it would amuse me no end if the judicial meaning were to entirely gainsay the linguistic interpretation.
    English as it is used in law can be very different from conversational or business English. This is not a forum for discussing the intricacies of legal English.

    From this layman's point of view, each clause that is separated by a semi-colon is independent and the exception regarding wartime applies only to to the clause regarding capital offenses. That said, my opinion is totally irrelevant when it comes to the courts. Is that what you are looking for? You'd like to know how the average person interprets the exception, given the sentence structure of the amendment?
     

    Cense

    Member
    English - Antipodean
    English as it is used in law can be very different from conversational or business English. This is not a forum for discussing the intricacies of legal English.

    From this layman's point of view, each clause that is separated by a semi-colon is independent and the exception regarding wartime applies only to to the clause regarding capital offenses. That said, my opinion is totally irrelevant when it comes to the courts. Is that what you are looking for? You'd like to know how the average person interprets the exception, given the sentence structure of the amendment?
    That's it, the interpretation that an average person would garner, and the interpretation that anyone with expertise in language or editing would apply.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Well, you do need to keep in mind that this was written over two hundred years ago. Anyone submitting this to an editor for publication would probably have it sent back for a total re-write. :) This is not a style that is used outside of legal documents these days.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    It is more a syntactical issue and its impact on meaning, specifically the position of the exemption clause, the use of semi colons, and if it can be interpreted in more than one way, particularly if it could ever be interpreted to afford the military an exemption from the entire amendment.
    It could not possibly be interpreted as meaning anything other than that the exception applies solely to capital, or otherwise infamous, crime.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Andygc is quite right.
    Five distinct issues are addressed, which may be briefly listed as: grand jury, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, due process, just compensation.
    The military exemption applies only to the first, the requirement for grand jury indictment in case of capital or infamous crime.

    Edit: in view of the deliberate restraint shown by others better acquainted with the US Constitution, I had better qualify my remarks by saying that the above is what seems to be the case if the words of the Amendment are taken at face value.
     
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    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I hate to wander a bit, but I'm hard put to define an "infamous crime" with legal certainty ... which points out the lack of precision by writers of that age.

    It's probably like that famous quote from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart that he couldn't define pornography, "but I know it when I see it."
     
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