Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

The majority of criminal cases end in a guilty plea or “no contest” (nolo contendre) plea for a variety of reasons. These reasons include purely strategic ones unrelated to actual guilt. For instance, a defendant’s chances at trial may seem slim (and a plea bargain is offered); there may be confusion surrounding the incident; the decision to plead guilty resulted from ineffective legal counsel; or perhaps an attorney wasn’t present at the arraignment.

Before sentencing, courts generally allow defendants to withdraw a guilty plea for any “fair and just reason,” especially if the judge has not yet accepted the plea or rejects a negotiated plea deal. The fact remains it is much more difficult to withdraw a guilty (or no contest) plea after sentencing. For instance, a guilty or no contest plea may be withdrawn after sentencing “only on direct appeal or collateral attack,” according to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 11, scroll to page 5).

After a defendant who has plead guilty has been sentenced, courts typically will not allow a withdrawal of the plea unless there was some kind of injustice involved, as is illustrated in the introduction. If made in a timely manner, courts generally will allow plea withdrawals after sentencing for the following conditions:

Defendant was denied effective assistance of legal counsel, as guaranteed by law.

The plea was not entered by the defendant or anyone authorized to act on their behalf.

Plea was not made voluntarily, or was entered without knowledge of the charge or sentence.

Defendant did not receive the concessions agreed to in the plea deal.

Defendant entered a guilty plea under the judge-approved condition that it could be withdrawn if the court rejected the agreed-upon conditions of the plea.

Defendant entered a guilty as the result of promises or threats made off-the-record (assuming they can be proven).

It is simply not enough to claim dissatisfaction with the outcome of the sentencing hearing, assuming it didn’t result in a miscarriage of justice. But even without the defendant’s request, a judge is required to set aside a guilty plea when there is strong evidence (perhaps latent DNA test results) of the defendant’s innocence.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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