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The dismissal of a jury who had been charged with the trial of a cause.
Questions frequently arise, whether if the court discharges a jury before they render a verdict in a criminal case, the prisoner can again be tried. In cases affecting life or members, the general rule is that when a jury have been sworn and charged, they cannot be discharged by the court, or any other, but ought to give a verdict. But to this rule there are many exceptions; for example, when the jury are discharged at the request or with the consent of the prisoner and for his benefit, when ill practices have been used; when the prisoner becomes insane, or becomes suddenly ill, so that he cannot defend himself, or instruct others in his defence; when a juror or witness is taken suddenly ill; when a juror has absented himself or, on account of his intoxication, is incapable to perform his duties as a juror. These and many similar cases render the discharge of the jury a matter of necessity, and under such very extraordinary and striking circumstances it is impossible to proceed with the trial, with justice to the prisoner or to the state.
The exception to the rule, then, is grounded on necessity and not merely because the jury cannot agree. In all these cases the court must exercise a just discretion in deciding what is and what is not a case of necessity. In most states and courts of the United States, it has been ruled that the authority of the court to discharge the jury rests in the sound discretion of the court.
A distinction has been made between capital cases and other criminal cases. In cases of misdemeanors and in civil cases, the right to discharge rests in the sound discretion of the court, which is to be exercised with great caution.