This is Steve Emberwith the VOA Special English program, In The News.
The former chairman of the failed energy company Enron, KennethLay, refused to answer questions at a Senate hearing this week. TheSenate committee is investigating the company's financial failure.
Mister Lay used his legal right provided by the Fifth Amendmentto the United States Constitution. That amendment says people do nothave to provide information that may be used against them in court.Several other top officials of the huge energy company also haveused this right to remain silent.
Last year, Enron became the largest company in the United Statesto seek legal protection from its debts. Thousands of Enronemployees lost their jobs and their retirement savings as a resultof the company's failure. Lawmakers suspect Enron set up falsebusinesses to create imaginary profits and hide losses in earnings.Lawmakers believe top officials of Enron unfairly profited fromthis.
Enron used the Arthur Andersen company as its independentfinancial examiner. Arthur Andersen also is suspected of wrongdoing.A company official also used his Fifth Amendment right to refuse toanswer questions before the Senate committee.The Fifth Amendment ispart of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights. The Bill ofRights contains ten amendments that became law inSeventy-Ninety-One.
The Fifth Amendment has several parts. The first says a personcan not be tried for a crime unless a grand jury accuses the person.A grand jury is a special group of people chosen to decide if thereis acceptable evidence against a person to hold a trial. There are afew limited exceptions to this rule.The second part of the FifthAmendment says no person can be tried for the same crime two times.However, there are exceptions to this rule also.
The third part of the Fifth Amendment is the part used by Enronand Arthur Andersen officials. It says no person can be legallyforced to speak against himself or herself. This includes answeringquestions in court, by police or by other government agents. Usingthis right is commonly called "Taking the Fifth."
This part of the Fifth Amendment became famous in Congressionalhearings during the Nineteen-Fifties. The House Un-AmericanActivities Committee was investigating possible treason in theUnited States. The Committee ordered many filmmakers, writers andother people to answer questions. Committee members asked thesepeople about their possible links to the Communist party. Manyrefused to answer. Some lawmakers called these people "FifthAmendment Communists."
The Fifth Amendment also says the government may not deny aperson his or her life, freedom, or property without the process oflaw. And it says the government may not take a person's property forpublic use without fair payment.
This VOA Special English program In The News was written by CatyWeaver. This is Steve Ember.