Defendant Needs Fair and Just Reason to Withdraw Guilty Plea

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 18, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Pleading guilty typically results in a lighter sentence, so it’s not surprising that a defendant would be annoyed if his guilty plea was rewarded with an upward variance from the Sentencing Guidelines.

Though the laws of this great land allow a defendant to be annoyed, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that they do not allow a defendant to withdraw his guilty plea without a fair and just reason.

Patrick Osei pled guilty to one count of illegal remuneration and two counts of false statements after being charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud, aiding and abetting health care fraud, and illegal remuneration. The district court accepted his guilty pleas and sentenced Osei to 63 months in prison, an upward variance from the Guidelines range of 46 to 57 months.

Osei later filed a motion to withdraw his pleas, claiming he did not plead knowingly or voluntarily and that he misunderstood the agreement. The district court rejected the motion, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

Here's why Osei's motion to withdraw his guilty pleas failed.

At his change-of-plea hearing, the district court spoke at length with Osei about the factual basis of his guilty plea and the effect of the plea deal on his constitutional rights. Osei responded that he had enough time to consider the plea, he understood the terms, and that he was satisfied with his attorney.

Later, after pleading guilty in another matter, Osei moved to withdraw all of his pleas, claiming that he had acted "like a robot" during the first change-of-plea hearing, that he did not understand the relevant conduct underlying his plea due to ineffective assistance of counsel, and that his counsel did not adequately investigate and advise him about the consequences of his guilty plea.

But at a hearing on this motion, Osei testified that he held a master's degree and was highly educated, that he understood what was happening in the plea hearings, and that he had consulted with his attorneys regarding the pleas, which contradicts his assertion that he didn't understand the plea.

The district judge indicated that he thought Osei was being dishonest in his dealings with the court, and denounced Osei's explanations for his change of heart as "gobbledygook." While the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals didn't resort to name-calling, it affirmed the court's decision.

A defendant may withdraw a guilty plea after the court accepts the plea but before it imposes the sentence if "the defendant can show a fair and just for requesting the withdrawal." Here, the Eighth Circuit concluded that Osei did not provide a fair and just reason.

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