As most of our readers already know, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects us from being forced to incriminate ourselves. This is why police must tell people they arrest that they have “the right to remain silent.” In other words, nobody has to say anything during a police interrogation or in court that could get them convicted of a crime.
The Fifth Amendment is considered a cornerstone of civil rights in the United States. But does it apply to tax disputes the same way it does in criminal law matters?
Sort of. As Forbes explains, under the Fifth Amendment, a taxpayer who is being audited does not have to answer questions from the IRS, but if you decline to produce tax-related documents, the agency can take several steps to force you to do so. The IRS can start with an “information document request,” and ultimately take you to court if you do not comply.
The IRS’ power to force taxpayers to hand over documents is based on the Required Records doctrine, which requires you to produce documents even if they would tend to incriminate you.
Most tax disputes are handled under civil law, meaning that the chances of you being sent to prison are slim. However, criminal charges are a possibility in some cases.
Even when that is not likely, a hefty tax bill could cripple your finances, so you must take an IRS audit seriously. The best way to defend your rights and work out a fair result is to have an experienced tax attorney representing you.