Can You Withdraw A Guilty Plea?

Plea deals aren't uncommon in criminal cases -- neither is regret once one has been accepted. Some people are unhappy with the sentence they are offered and some people just start to think that they might have had a better outcome at trial. However, withdrawing a guilty plea isn't that easy to do. Here are some things you should know if you're thinking of trying.

Has the court already accepted the plea?

If you change your mind about the plea deal prior to the time the court formally accepts it, you may be allowed to retract your plea a lot more easily than you will after the judge sentences you.

Unfortunately, the reason that many people want to retract their plea is that they're unhappy with the sentence that the judge imposes. Prosecutors can make recommendations about your sentence to the judge in order to get you to agree to a plea deal, but the judge is not always bound to those recommendations. If not, the judge can impose a tougher sentence. Just ask Jared Fogle -- the advertising icon who was sentenced to 3 years longer than he expected according to the plea he'd made with prosecutors.

Once you've made a plea and it has been accepted by the court, you'll have a much harder time withdrawing it. You usually have to convince the court that you have a very good reason -- other than just being unhappy with the results -- for doing so.

What reasons will the court consider?

Usually, the question the court is going to consider is whether or not you should be allowed to withdraw the plea in the interest of fairness and will take several factors into account:

  • Did you have plenty of time to consider the plea?

  • Did you speak to an attorney before you accepted the plea?

  • Were you fully apprised of how the plea would affect your constitutional rights?

  • Were you capable of understanding what you were being told and offered?

  • Were there language difficulties involved?

  • Were you mentally ill at the time the plea was made?

  • Were you on drugs or alcohol at the time you made the plea?

  • Is there evidence that you were misinformed about the judge's ability to impose a stiffer sentence (if that is one of the issues)?

  • Is there evidence of your actual innocence (such as DNA)?

How do you begin the process of withdrawing your plea?

Typically, the request to withdraw a guilty plea starts with a motion to vacate your earlier plea. If your request to vacate the plea is based on the ineffective or inept advice of your attorney, you'll need a new attorney to file the motion for you. To find out more, speak with someone like Malcolm Stewart Douglas Atty.