Legal Dictionary

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Factual Basis

In criminal law, “factual basis” refers to a statement of the facts detailing a defendant's crime, stipulated by the prosecution and the defense (or the defendant may admit those facts on the record in open court), which forms the basis by which a judge can accept a guilty or no contest plea to a felony charge.

In order to establish the factual basis the prosecutor or judge may ask the defendant questions to ensure that the plea given by the defendant is done in a free, intelligent, and voluntary manner. The prosecutor or judge may also ask the defendant to describe his or her conduct. In some cases, the judge may request defense counsel to stipulate to a particular document that provides an adequate factual basis, such as a Complaint, Information, police report, preliminary hearing transcript, probation report, grand jury transcript, or written plea agreement.

Generally, the factual basis requirement is met by the court by asking the defendant on the record if he or she is pleading guilty because he or she is guilty. A showing of factual basis for a guilty plea is required in felony cases. California Penal Code 1192.5. The factual basis for felony pleas is generally done in greater detail whereas in misdemeanor pleas, the factual basis established by the court for guilty or no contest pleas generally require less detail.