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What's the worst/maximum sentence or sanction one can receive for remaining silent in court when asked to speak by a court official (with and without a subpoena)?

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    Absent a court order or subpoena, there is generally no sanction and no legal obligation to testify. But, a party's failure to testify could prevent that party from meeting their burden of proof in some proceeding, or an adverse inference on the merits. – ohwilleke Dec 19 '19 at 0:42
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Theoretically, life imprisonment. One can be imprisoned for as long as you remain in contempt of court, so if a person is ordered to testify and refuses, he can be held in prison until he testifies. In the US, this has been tested up to 14 years, whereupon a judge decided that the individual would perennially remain in prison rather than comply with the order, so there was no point in further imprisonment. However, invoking the right to silence is typically related to testimony at a trial, and trials don't last a lifetime. When compliance with the order becomes moot, a contemptuous person will not be held any longer, at least if this is a civil contempt case. Criminal sanctions are also possible for contempt, in which case there is a specific period of incarceration as punishment.

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    Important to note that if one invokes the 5th Amendment, one is not required to testify unless the witness is offered sufficient immunity from prosecution for the testimony from someone with the authority to grant that immunity (usually an attorney in the DA's office), although doing so may result in an adverse inference in a civil matter when the party doing so is a party to the case. (Indeed, claiming the 5th Amendment in a civil case causes a party to lose maybe 95% of the time in an otherwise winnable case.) – ohwilleke Dec 19 '19 at 0:45
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    I assume that in this scenario, the witness has been granted immunity and was ordered to testify. I take "asked to speak by a court official" to be a mild way to say "ordered to testify". – user6726 Dec 19 '19 at 1:02
  • @ohwilleke I was actually wondering... so I know that both prosecutors and defense attorneys can subponea people to court (and imply sanctions too). Just like prosecutors are allowed to grant immunity to 5th amendment, can the defense attorneys grant immunity on their side? – J. Linne Dec 19 '19 at 23:00
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    Only the prosecutor can prosecute, so there is nothing that a defense attorney does that could put a witness in jeopardy, in the relevant legal sense. – user6726 Dec 19 '19 at 23:35
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    @ohwilleke as a note to your note if you have a criminal trial and are found not guilty and there you refuse to testify, you could always decide to testify in a civil case. – Viktor Dec 26 '19 at 22:42

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