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Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

Oct. 22, 2021

It is very rare for the courts to allow someone to withdraw a guilty plea, but it is not impossible. For starters, the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved in the courts by guilty pleas. There are many reasons for this. For example, the defense attorney might have worked out a satisfactory deal with the prosecution. The defendant might not have wanted to risk going to trial where the sentence could have been harsher if convicted.

In most cases, defendants enter a guilty plea because they have been convinced that it is in their best interest to do so. Either way, guilty pleas can be challenged by asking the court for leave to withdraw the plea.

Types of Guilty Plea

There are generally speaking two ways that a defendant can plead guilty.

  • A straight up guilty plea—in this type of Guilty Plea, a defendant admits that the committed the offense(s) they are pleading guilty to

  • An Alford plea or no contest plea—in this type of Guilty Plea, a defendant does not admit that they committed the offense(s)

Before the court can accept a guilty plea, it has to make sure that the plea is being knowingly and voluntarily made by the defendant. To achieve this, the court will hold a plea colloquy in which it asks the defendant series of questions:

  • Your level of education

  • Whether you had enough time to consult with your attorney about whether you should plead guilty or go to trial

  • Whether it is your decision to plead guilty

  • Whether anyone made any promises or threats to get you to plead guilty

Withdrawing Guilty Plea Before and After Sentencing

There are two instances in which you can ask the court to allow you to withdraw a plea: before being sentenced, or after sentencing. The timing of the motion to withdraw determines which standard a court will apply to review the motion.

  • Before Sentencing: In order for the court to allow you to withdraw a plea before sentencing, you must show that (1) your effort is being done in good faith and (2) it is based on evidence showing a reasonable basis for contesting guilt. In other words, you must genuinely want to withdraw your plea because you have a good case for acquittal at trial.

  • After Sentencing: If you pleaded guilty and have already been sentenced, the only way the court will allow you to withdraw the plea is if you can demonstrate that a manifest injustice. Examples of this includes the defendant not being mentally stable when the plea was made, or the plea was somehow unintelligently or involuntarily made, or the plea was based on an agreement that has been rescinded. Being disappointed with the terms of sentence is not a valid reason to withdraw the plea.

Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer

Whatever the reason for pleading guilty, withdrawing a guilty plea is not an easy task once the court accepts the plea. Withdrawing your guilty plea requires a legal understanding of what must be demonstrated to the court. You need an attorney who has experience with withdrawing guilty pleas. Such an attorney can make sure you get the best outcome in your case. Bryan J. Jones is committed to his clients and will develop a defense strategy tailored just for you. Contact Bryan J. Jones, LLC today.