When, in a company or society, the parties having a right to vote are so divided that there is not a plurality of the whole in favor of any particular proposition, or when the voters are equally divided, it is said there. is division of opinion.
In such a case, the Roman law, which seems founded in reason and common sense, directs that when the division relates to the quantity of things included, as in the case of a judgment, if one of three judges votes for condemning a man to a fine of one hundred dollars, another to one of fifty dollars, and the third to twenty-five, the opinion or vote of the last shall be the rule for the judgment, because the votes of all the others include that of the lowest; this is the case when unanimity is required. But when the division of opinions does not relate to the quantity of things, then it is always to be in favor of the defendant. It was a rule among the Romans that when the judges were equal in number, and they were divided into two opinions in cases of liberty, that opinion which favored it should prevail; and in other cases, it should be in favor of the defendant.
When the judges of a court are divided into three classes, each holding a different opinion, that class which has the greatest number shall give the judgment; for example, on a habeas corpus, when a court is composed of four judges and one is for remanding the prisoner, another is for discharging him on his own recognizance, and two others for discharging him absolutely, the judgment will be that he be discharged.
It is provided, by the Act of Congress of April 29, 1802, that whenever any question shall occur before a circuit court, upon which the opinions of the judges shall be opposed, the point upon which the disagreement shall happen shall, during the same term, upon the request of either party or their counsel, be stated under the direction of the judges, and certified under the seal of the court, to the supreme court at their next session to be hold thereafter, and shall by the said court, be finally decided. And the decision of the supreme court, and their order in the premises, shall be, remitted to the circuit court, and be there entered of record and shall have effect according to the nature of the said judgment and order: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall prevent the cause from proceeding, if in the opinion of the court, further proceedings can be had without prejudice to the merits: And Provided, also, That imprisonment shall not be allowed, nor punishment in any case be inflicted, where the judges of the said court are divided in opinion upon the question touching the said imprisonment or punishment.