A Time magazine article from October 26, 1953 highlights "fourteen magic words": "I refuse to answer upon the ground that it might tend to incriminate me."
They became magic words in this country in a famous Supreme Court case, Blau v. United States (340 U.S. 159 (1950)). ( and see related Blau v. United States, 340 U.S. 332 (1951)). In that case, an individual refused to answer questions, asserting that to do so would result in self-incrimination. The Court agreed with her, ruling that "Whether such admissions by themselves would support a conviction under a criminal statute is immaterial. Answers to the questions asked by the grand jury would have furnished a link in the chain of evidence needed in a prosecution of petitioner for violation of (or conspiracy to violate) the Smith Act. Prior decisions of this Court have clearly established that under such circumstances, the Constitution gives a witness the privilege of remaining silent. The attempt by the courts below to compel petitioner to testify runs counter to the Fifth Amendment as it has been interpreted from the beginning....Reversed."
Even as we value the right of silence under our Constitution, this right is being limited elsewhere, most particularly in England and Wales. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, passed in 1994, discusses inferences that may be made concerning an accused's silence (sections 34-39).