The Fifth Amendment protects witnesses from being forced to incriminate themselves. To "plead the Fifth" is a refusal to answer a question because the response could form self-incriminating evidence.

      Historically, the legal protection against self-incrimination is directly related to the question of torture for extracting information and confessions.[2][3] The legal shift from widespread use of torture and forced confession dates to turmoil of the late 16th and early 17th centuries in England. Anyone refusing to take the oath ex-officio (confessions or swearing of innocence, usually before hearing any charges) was taken for guilty. Suspected Puritans were pressed to take the oath and then reveal names of other Puritans. Coercion and torture were commonly employed to compel "cooperation." Puritans, who were at the time fleeing to the New World, began a practice of refusing to cooperate with interrogations. In the most famous case, John Lilburne refused, in 1637, to take the oath. His case and his call for "freeborn rights" were rallying points for reforms against forced oaths, forced self-incrimination, and other kinds of coercion. Oliver Cromwell's revolution overturned the practice and incorporated protections, in response to a popular group of English citizens known as the Levellers. The Levellers presented The Humble Petition of Many Thousands to Parliament in 1647 with thirteen demands, of which, the right against self-incrimination (in criminal cases only), was listed at number three. These protections were brought to the American shores by Puritans, and were later incorporated into the United States Constitution through its Bill of Rights.

      This amendment is also similar to Section 13 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.