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Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

In some situations, a defendant who pleads guilty to a misdemeanor or a felony in criminal court may later withdraw that guilty plea. Information on withdrawing a guilty plea in criminal court may be found at California penal code section 1018.

PC 1018 Law: PC 1018, in part, reads: “…On application of the defendant at any time before judgment, or within six months after an order granting probation is made if entry of judgment is suspended, the court may, and in case of a defendant who appeared without counsel at the time of the plea the court shall, for a good cause shown, permit the plea of guilty to be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty substituted...This section shall be liberally construed to effect these objects and to promote justice.” (Abbrev.).

PC 1018 Before Judgement: A defendant’s sentencing in a criminal case occurs after he pleads guilty. Once the court enters judgement on the conviction the defendant may not withdraw his guilty plea; however, in most misdemeanor cases, the defendant is placed on probation after his sentence is suspended, and in most felony cases, the defendant’s sentencing takes place at a separate court hearing after the entry of plea. Therefore, most misdemeanor and felony convictions are eligible for the request to withdraw a guilty plea because the entry of judgement is either suspended (probation sentence) or is delayed after he entry of plea (most felony cases).

Probation Granted: When probation is granted in a misdemeanor or felony case the defendant has no more than six months to petition the court to withdraw his guilty plea. This six month rule is firm and the court has no authority to extend this time limitation.

Note: A writ of Coram Nobis is a petition to an appeals court to have an order reversed based on an error that was unknown to the lower court. A writ of Coram Nobis might be used to show that the entry of judgement was accomplished based on an error. If the appeals court agrees, the entry of judgement might be reversed; thereafter, the defendant may file his motion to withdraw a guilty plea because the defendant’s motion to withdraw a guilty plea would be filed before the entry of judgement.

Motion to Withdraw: The court that entered the defendant’s guilty plea is the same court where the defendant files his motion to withdraw a guilty plea. The defendant must make a strong showing that circumstances would justify withdrawing the defendant’s guilty plea. The judge will consider the facts and circumstances of each cases in order to reach a result that promotes fairness and justice to the defendant. If the court finds that there is good cause to allow the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea the court may use its discretion to grant the defendant’s motion. Keep in mind that even if the court finds good cause was shown to allow the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea the court does not have to grant the defendant's request (absent abuse of discretion by the court).

Abuse of Discretion Standard: If the court finds that the defendant has shown good cause related to his request to withdraw a guilty plea the court may either grant the defendant’s motion, or deny the defendant’s motion (even if good cause to withdraw a guilty plea was shown by the defendant). The appeals court will not disturb the court’s ruling unless the court abused its discretion in making its decision to deny a 1018 motion. On the other hand, if the defendant was not represented by an attorney at the time of entering his guilty plea and the court finds that the defendant has shown good cause to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea then the court must grant the defendant’s 1018 motion.

Good Cause: What is considered to be good cause in a PC 1018 motion is decided on a case-by-case basis; however, the courts have given some guidance as to what does, and what does not, amount to good cause to withdraw a guilty plea:

Good Cause: Generally, good cause to withdraw a guilty plea will usually be found where the defendant was not advised that he would be deported from the United States upon a guilty plea. Also, successful ineffective assistance of counsel arguments generally lead to a finding of good cause in PC 1018 motions (Ineffective assistance does not mean bad advice in PC 1018 motion; but rather, uninformed advice, such as when the defendant’s attorney had very little time to study the case before he joins in the defendant’s plea). Finally, good cause to grant a motion to withdraw a guilty plea would more likely be granted in a case where the district attorney did not honor his part of a plea agreement. Other circumstances may lead to a good cause argument in PC 1018 motions.

No Good Cause: Generally, good cause to withdraw a guilty plea in not found simply because the defendant changed his mind about his desire to plead guilty or where his family pressured him to plead guilty. Also, good cause to withdraw a guilty plea in not normally found where the defendant claims he had little time to consider the district attorney’s offer or where he was punished more than he had hoped. Other circumstances where good cause is not found in a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is virtually endless. As stated, every case is decided on a case-by-case basis when it comes to whether or not the defendant has good cause to withdraw his guilty plea.

PC 1018 Motion Granted: When a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is granted the criminal proceedings are restored as if the plea of guilt never occurred. For example, if the defendant was facing a criminal charge of robbery and he entered into a negotiated plea with the district attorney whereby he plead guilty to the crime of theft in lieu of robbery then a successful PC 1018 motion would restore the robbery charges, not the theft charges. Also, if the defendant spoke to a probation officer as part of his plea deal then any statement he made to the probation officer is not admissible against him after a successful PC 1018 motion.

To learn more about the motion to withdraw a guilty plea, or PC 1018, contact our criminal defense lawyers today for a discreet and free consultation. Our successful and experienced criminal defense team has represented defendants against misdemeanor and felony charges at every level. Call today!

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