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a person arraigned on indictment who refuses to answer a charge.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

MUTE, persons. One who is dumb. Vide Deaf and Dumb.

MUTE, STANDING MUTE, practice, crim. law. When a prisoner upon his arraignment totally refuses to answer, insists upon mere frivolous pretences, or refuses to put himself upon the country, after pleading not guilty, he is said to stand mute.
     2. In the case of the United States v. Hare, et al., Circuit Court, Maryland Dist. May sess. 1818, the prisoner standing mute was considered as if he had pleaded not guilty.
     3. The act of congress of March 3, 1825, 3 Story's L. U. S. 2002, has since provided as follows; Sec. 14, That if any person, upon his or her arraignment upon any indictment before any court of the United States for any offence, not capital, shall stand mute, or will not answer or plead to such indictment, the court shall, notwithstanding, proceed to the trial of the person, so standing mute, or refusing to answer or pleas, as if he or she had pleaded not guilty; and upon a verdict being returned by the jury, may proceed to render judgment accordingly. A similar provision is to be found in the laws of Pennsylvania.
     4. The barbarous punishment of peine forte et dure which till lately disgraced the criminal code of England, was never known in the United States. Vide Dumb; 15 Vin. Ab. 527.
     5. When a prisoner stands mute, the laws of England arrive at the forced conclusion that he is guilty, and punish him accordingly. 1 Chit. Cr. Law, 428.
     6. By the old French law, when a person accused was mute, or stood mute, it was the duty of the judge to appoint him a curator, whose duty it was to defend him, in the best manner he could; and for this purpose, he was allowed to communicate with him privately. Poth. Proced. Crim. s. 4, art. 2, Sec. 1.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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