How to Withdraw a Guilty Plea

By Andrew Lu on February 05, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You've pleaded guilty to a crime, and are now looking to withdraw that plea. How do you go about doing that?

You may assume that you (or your lawyer) can simply walk up to the prosecutor or judge and say, "Oops, I made a mistake. I'd like to change my mind." But it's not that easy.

Entering a plea has legal ramifications, and you can't just change your mind whenever you feel like it. Instead, here's what you will need to do:

File a Motion

In most cases, you'll need to follow the process in your state for withdrawing a plea. Typically, this starts with filing a motion to vacate your earlier plea.

Even if you properly file your motion and meet all the legal procedural requirements, you'll still likely face a judge to explain why you want to change your plea. A judge typically has discretion to deny your motion.

Factors a Judge May Consider

A judge will typically consider several factors in deciding whether to grant your motion. These factors may include:

  • Whether you have a legitimate claim of innocence,
  • Whether the original plea deal was fair,
  • The reasons why you want to withdraw your plea, and
  • Whether vacating the plea will hurt the state's case or lead to an unfair result.

For example, let's say that you are arrested for a crime. You're young and have never been in trouble before. You're scared of the people in your holding cell, and you're afraid of the police and prosecutors. As a result, you pounce on the first opportunity to resolve your case, which entails pleading guilty to a crime without truly understanding what you are doing.

In this case, your attorney may be able to argue that you did not voluntarily enter a plea deal, or that you did not fully understand what you were pleading to.

Getting a Lawyer On Your Side

As explained above, withdrawing a plea deal is not a simple matter of changing your mind. You'll probably want to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to argue why your guilty plea should be vacated. Ultimately, though, it will be up to a judge to agree (or not agree) with your motion.

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