Standing Mute | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

Standing mute means refusing to speak when asked a question, especially in court; an accused person standing mute when asked to plead will have a not guilty plea entered by the court.

Standing mute is a legal term that refers to the act of an individual refusing to speak when asked a question, particularly in a court of law. In the context of criminal proceedings, standing mute most commonly refers to a defendant’s refusal to enter a plea when asked to do so by the court.

When a defendant is arraigned, they are informed of the charges against them and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant refuses to enter a plea, the court will typically enter a not guilty plea on their behalf. This is known as a “stand mute” plea because the defendant is effectively refusing to speak and declining to make a plea.

There are a number of reasons why a defendant may choose to stand mute. In some cases, they may be attempting to delay the proceedings or hoping to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution. In other cases, they may be protesting the legitimacy of the court or the charges against them.

Regardless of the defendant’s reasons for standing mute, the court will still proceed with the trial as if the defendant had entered a not guilty plea. This means that the prosecution will need to present evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defendant will have the opportunity to mount a defense and present evidence on their own behalf.

Standing mute can have significant consequences for a defendant’s case. If the defendant is convicted, the judge may take their refusal to enter a plea into account when deciding on an appropriate sentence. Additionally, a defendant who stands mute may be viewed with suspicion by the jury, who may interpret their silence as an admission of guilt.

In some cases, defendants may choose to do this as a form of protest against what they see as an unjust legal system. For example, in 1968, the Chicago Eight, a group of anti-war protesters, stood mute during their trial in protest of what they saw as an unfair trial process. This tactic can be risky, however, as it may lead to increased hostility from the court and jury and may not have the desired impact on public opinion.

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Last Modified: 04/07/2023


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