Withdrawing a Guilty or No Contest Plea

In California, defendants who plead guilty or no contest to criminal charges may, in some limited circumstances, be allowed to petition the court to withdraw their plea and enter a not guilty plea to the same charges. If the court grants the petition, the criminal case starts over. The criminal defense attorneys at Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners are skilled in evaluating the plea and determining the probability of prevailing on a Motion to Withdraw a Plea.

California Law

California Penal Code section 1018 allows a defendant upon a showing of "Good Cause," to withdraw a guilty or no contest plea before sentencing or within six months after the court grants probation. "Good Cause" means a legal reason or excuse to show why a request should be granted. Good cause to withdraw a plea is shown when a defendant at the time of the plea was operating under a mistake, ignorance, duress, fraud, or any other factor overcoming the exercise of his or her free judgment. In order to prevail on a successful motion to withdraw a plea, Good Cause must be shown by clear and convincing evidence.

Common Scenarios for Withdrawing a Plea

There are a number of scenarios where a court may allow a defendant to withdraw their plea which include the following:

  • The defendant pled guilty or no contest while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • The defendant pled guilty or no contest and was not advised, by the defense attorney or judge, of the consequences of his or her plea. Example: As a result of his or her plea the defendant faced immigration consequences such as deportation or denial of citizenship and this was not explained by the defense attorney or the court.
  • The defendant was not advised of his or her constitutional rights before taking the plea. Examples: right to be represented by an attorney; right to have a speedy trial; right to remain silent; right to not be tried for the same crime twice.
  • The defendant was pressured or threatened into entering a plea.
  • The defendant pled guilty to a proposed deal or bargain and later the prosecutor or judge denied the defendant any of the proposed terms of the bargain or deal.
  • The defendant entered a plea and later learned that the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence which could have exonerated the defendant.

Some courts will not allow a defendant to withdraw a plea based on erroneous advice given by the defense attorney. This really is an uphill battle. Also, the dislike of an attorney or dissatisfaction with an attorney's efforts at negotiating a deal is not a basis for a successful withdrawal of a plea.

After the Plea is Withdrawn

A defendant who is successful in withdrawing a plea gets to start over. The case is restored or rewound to its original status before entering the plea. Charges dismissed when the plea deal was on the table are reinstated. A defendant in this situation should be prepared to go directly to trial and attempt to obtain a not guilty verdict. Prosecutors at this point are not too amenable to offering a better deal and in some cases may add additional charges to the criminal complaint subjecting the defendant to a harsher sentence if convicted.

Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney before attempting to withdraw a plea and learn whether it is likely a motion to withdraw a plea will succeed, and whether withdrawing of your plea is in your best interests.