Withdrawal of Guilty Pleas in Florida

February 26, 2015

When you are charged with a crime, you can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Entering a plea of not guilty means that your case will go to trial, while a guilty or no contest plea means that you will receive a sentence without going through the trial process. If you have entered a plea of guilty or no contest, you may regret that decision. Fortunately, it is possible to withdraw a guilty or no contest plea, which can be done either before or after sentencing.

Before Sentencing

It is much easier to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing, as the standard is lower for the court to permit withdrawal. A guilty or no contest plea:

  • May be withdrawn at the court’s discretion, and
  • Must be withdrawn upon showing good cause.

For “good cause,” a defendant must show that the plea was not voluntarily and intelligently entered. Merely changing one’s mind is not sufficient. To determine whether good cause exists, courts will examine factors such as whether the defendant knew of the consequences of pleading guilty and why the defendant wants to withdraw the plea. If a defendant can show that a plea was not made voluntarily, the court has no discretion and is thus required to permit withdrawal of the plea. Lack of voluntariness can be shown by proving “mental weakness, mistake, surprise, misapprehension, fear, promise, or other circumstances affecting [the defendant’s] rights.”

The court also has discretion to permit withdrawal of a guilty plea in the interests of justice, even if the defendant is not able to show “good cause.”

Courts have held that the rule regarding pre-sentencing plea withdrawal is to be construed liberally because it favors trying cases on the merits. Allowing a defendant to go to trial furthers the interests of justice.

To withdraw a plea before sentencing, defendants or their attorneys must, at any time before the sentencing, file a motion in court to vacate the previous plea. The court will then hold a hearing to determine whether it is appropriate to withdraw the plea. If the motion is denied, the defendant can appeal.

After Sentencing

Withdrawing a guilty or no contest plea after sentencing is much more difficult than pre-sentencing withdrawal. The defendant has a higher burden of proof, and has only thirty days to file a motion to withdraw. To withdraw a plea after sentencing requires that a defendant show a manifest injustice that demands a correction. This can be proved by showing:

  • The lack of subject matter jurisdiction,
  • A violation of the plea agreement,
  • An involuntary plea,
  • A sentencing error, or
  • As otherwise provided by law.

Withdrawing on the basis of an involuntary plea is the most common method. An involuntary plea is one made without the defendant having knowledge of the direct consequences of entering the guilty or no contest plea. Direct consequences include incarceration, fines, and the terms of probation. This does not include collateral consequences such as having one’s name put on a sex offender registry, deportation, or the loss of voting rights.

Consequences

Moving for the withdrawal of a guilty plea can have consequences. For example, the sentence that the defendant receives at trial may be more severe than the sentence that would have resulted from the plea. However, the fact that a defendant has pled guilty or no contest, and then later withdrawn that plea, cannot be used against him or her at trial.

If you have entered a guilty or no contest plea and have come to regret it, an experienced attorney can help you to determine whether the plea may be withdrawn and can guide you through the process of moving for withdrawal. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.