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Withdrawing a Guilty Plea in Federal Court

October 9, 2021

People often plead guilty to crimes, and it is not necessarily because they actually committed the crime. Sometimes, the prosecution’s case is extremely strong, and the accused doesn’t have much of a chance of being found “not guilty.” In these cases, the prosecution often offers a plea agreement, but the suspect is required to plead guilty in these cases. In other cases, the defendant didn’t have adequate counsel, so he or she decides that the best thing to do is to plead “guilty.” In some cases, the defendant doesn’t have an attorney, so he may plead guilty just because he doesn’t know what else to do. If you regret pleading guilty and would like to withdraw your plea, you may be able to do so.

You may ask to withdraw your guilty plea in the following manner:

Prior to Acceptance of the Guilty Plea

It is easiest to withdraw a plea of guilty when the court hasn’t accepted it yet. If you withdraw the guilty plea at this time, it will be accepted “for any or no reason.” You may enter into a plea agreement, but it would require you to plead guilty. If the court rejects your plea agreement, your guilty plea would still stand. In the event that the court is going to reject a plea agreement, it is required to allow you the opportunity to withdraw your guilty plea. This is notable because the government regularly informs people that it will drop the charges or decline to bring new charges if you plead guilty.

After Acceptance of the Guilty Plea

If you plead guilty and your plea was accepted, you will need to demonstrate that you have a “fair and just reason” to withdraw your guilty plea after it has been accepted. The courts have determined that there are seven fair and just reasons to withdraw a guilty plea, and they include the following:

  • You claim to be innocent.
  • There is prejudice to the government.
  • There was a delay in withdrawing your guilty plea.
  • There was judicial inconvenience.
  • There was “close assistance of counsel.”
  • There was a waste of judicial resources.
  • The term “knowing and voluntary nature of the plea” applies to your case.

You may enter one or more of the above reasons, and it will be up to the court whether or not to accept them as reasons for you to withdraw your guilty plea. Keep in mind that the court does not have to accept any of these reasons for withdrawing your guilty plea.

After Sentencing

You may even withdraw your guilty plea after you have been sentenced. However, it is imperative that you act quickly when you know that this is what you need to do. You may withdraw your guilty plea in the event that you can meet the following conditions:

  • You plead guilty because law enforcement officers threatened you or made promises to you, but you must be able to prove this.
  • You plead guilty because the judge approved your ability to withdraw the plea if the court rejects the conditions of the plea.
  • You were promised concessions in your plea deal, and you did not receive them.
  • Your guilty plea was made involuntarily, or you entered a guilty plea before you knew what you were being charged with or the sentence you would receive.
  • You did not personally enter the guilty plea, and your attorney or authorized representative did not enter it for you.
  • You were not adequately represented by counsel.

Receiving an Increased Amount of Time after Successfully Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

It is possible for you to receive a longer jail sentence after you successfully withdraw your guilty plea. An example exists in which a defendant successfully withdrew his guilty plea but received a sentence of 30 years in the first trial. The defendant withdrew his guilty plea and appealed his conviction and then received a new trial. The jury decided that the defendant was guilty, and the judge gave him a life sentence plus 150 years. The judge explained this discrepancy in the sentencing by stating that he was “too lenient” in the first trial. This sentence may have been vindictive, but The Supreme Court upheld it because the prosecutor was able to introduce additional evidence that pointed toward the defendant’s guilt. The additional evidence may also have been the reason for the harsh sentence.

In another case, the defendant successfully withdrew his guilty plea. He was found guilty of the crime in his second trial, and the jury gave him a harsher sentence than the one he received during the first trial. The court also upheld this sentence because the jury wouldn’t have been aware of the previous case, so it wouldn’t have had any reason to be vindictive.

If you would like to withdraw a guilty plea, contact a criminal defense attorney.



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