In the courtroom, silence can speak volumes. It can be a powerful tool, a strategic move, a way to avoid scrutiny, or an expression of defiance. In the Bryan Kohberger case, this is exactly what happened when Kohberger chose to 'stand mute' when asked to enter his plea. But why would a defendant choose this unconventional legal strategy? And what does it mean for the case at hand?
The Strategy of Silence
'Standing mute' is a legal strategy where a defendant remains silent instead of verbally pleading guilty or not guilty. According to an Idaho criminal rule, a judge is then required to enter a not guilty plea on behalf of the defendant. This effectively allows the defendant to avoid verbally committing to being guilty or not guilty, putting them on the record with a not guilty plea without having to say it themselves.
This tactic, while highly unusual, is not unheard of. For example, it was also used in the case against Nikolas Cruz, the gunman responsible for the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Why Stand Mute?
There are several reasons why a defendant may choose to 'stand mute', particularly in a high-profile and highly scrutinized case like Kohberger's. According to University of Idaho law professor Samuel Newton, the defendant may want to avoid criticism that could come with a certain plea. A not guilty plea, for example, may spark public outrage that the defendant is not taking responsibility for their alleged actions. This strategy may also be used if prosecutors and defense attorneys are negotiating behind the scenes, potentially discussing a plea agreement.
On the other hand, it could simply be that the defendant is being difficult and not wanting to cooperate. As Seattle attorney Anne Bremner puts it, "Maybe he's just trying to be defiant or attempting to show he's the smartest guy in the courtroom." Given Kohberger's background as a criminology student, he likely knew enough about criminal studies that his decision to stand mute would have an impact.
A Closer Look at the Bryan Kohberger Case
Bryan Kohberger, a 28-year-old graduate student in the Department of Criminology at Washington State University, was indicted for the murders of four University of Idaho students - Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle, and Ethan Chapin. The grisly case unfolded in Moscow, Idaho, a city that hadn't seen a murder since 2015. The killings and the lengthy investigation that followed sent shockwaves through the community.
At Kohberger's arraignment, when asked for his plea, he remained silent. His attorney rose and said, “Your honor, we are standing silent,” and the judge then entered not guilty pleas for him. The trial is set to begin in October and is expected to last about six weeks, with the prosecution given 60 days to announce whether they plan to seek the death penalty.
The case has been shrouded in mystery due to a wide-ranging gag order, with few details trickling out so far. However, Kohberger was linked to the crime scene after DNA found on a knife sheath at the scene matched DNA on trash recovered from Kohberger’s family home in Pennsylvania.
The choice to stand mute can be a strategic move in a criminal case. Whether it's to avoid public scrutiny, to allow for behind-the-scenes negotiations, or just to be difficult, this unconventional tactic adds another layer of complexity to the legal proceedings. In the Bryan Kohberger case, his choice to stand mute has drawn attention and speculation, further deepening the mystery surrounding this tragic event. As we look forward to the trial, it remains to be seen how this decision will impact the course and outcome of the case.
In the end, whether one speaks or remains silent, the pursuit of justice continues. As we watch this case unfold, let's remember the four young lives lost, the community shaken, and the countless lives forever changed. As we ponder the strategy of silence, let's also remember the voice of justice that never stands mute.