Many times people will plead guilty to crimes as part of bargains with prosecutors to obtain lighter sentences. While this is a good legal strategy, especially if there is indisputable evidence against the defendant, sometimes people have second thoughts about entering guilty pleas in their cases. Even though you may have been sentenced for a crime, it is possible to withdraw the guilty plea, though it won't be easy. Here's what you need to do to make this happen in your case.
Provide a Rock-Solid Reason
The court system does not like it when defendants try to change their pleas after the case has been resolved, and most people who make the attempt will be denied. However, you're more likely to have your request approved if you provide a valid and solid reason for wanting to make the change that makes the court feel it would be unjust to let the plea stand as is.
A few reasons that have been accepted by the court include:
- The prosecutor does not follow through with his end of the deal. For instance, the prosecutor states he will recommend a lesser sentence as part of the plea deal but doesn't do so. To allow the plea to stand would be unfair to the defendant.
- The plea was coerced or forced. This is often seen in cases where the police overstep their boundaries and threaten or lead defendants to believe something bad will happen to them if they plead not guilty. However, the coercion can come from any source.
- The defendant was not adequately advised of the consequences of pleading guilty. This can happen if the person did not speak to an attorney prior to the arraignment or have representation with him or her in court.
- There is no factual support for the charges against the person. For example, the person pleads guilty to a battery charge (among others), but the victim states the person didn't hurt him or her and there's no record of injuries. There's no support for the battery charge so the judge would allow the defendant to change it.
- The person can provide evidence of his or her innocence.
The reason for your change of heart must be compelling enough to overcome the court's natural reluctance to undo a prosecutor's work and risk spending tax payer dollars going to trial. Additionally, you should only go with reasons where you have solid proof to back up your assertions.
File the Right Motion
Sentencing may feel like it's the end of your case, but it's not. If you want to reverse your guilty plea, you can do so in a few ways:
- File an appeal challenging either the legality of the plea or the fairness of the sentencing. If the prosecution fails to make the sentencing recommendation as agreed, for instance, you could challenge the outcome of the plea deal.
- File a motion to withdraw or vacate a judgment. If successful, this will effectively wipe out the plea deal and start the case over from the beginning. You can then force the prosecution to try your case in court by pleading not guilty or enter a new plea deal with different terms.
- File a writ of habeas corpus. The writ basically asks the court to allow the imprisoned person to appear before court to challenge the legality of his or her imprisonment. It's mostly appropriate for cases where the person's constitutional rights have been violated (e.g. you didn't have proper representation when you pleaded guilty).
If you want to change your plea, it's important to do so as soon after sentencing as possible. Some actions can only be done within a certain period of time. For example, in California, you must file a motion to vacate a judgment within the first six months of a probation sentence.
Changing a plea after sentencing can be difficult and involve a lot of complex legal maneuvering. You should consult with a knowledgeable criminal attorney who can help you through the process to achieve the outcome you want.