Can I Withdraw My Guilty Plea?

Let’s say you pleaded guilty—or even a no-contest—and have since thought about it and decided that you made the wrong move with that plea. Maybe it was part of a plea agreement, and you were so frightened by the thought of a long prison sentence that you copped to lesser charges just to avoid that scenario. But with time, you just cannot stomach the idea of saying you did something when you are innocent.  Even though a no-contest plea does not necessarily admit to guilt, it does result in legal penalties. In your case, the paperwork’s been signed, so are you stuck in a deal you do not like? Maybe, maybe not. 

California Law

According to California Penal Code 1018, there are circumstances under which a defendant may withdraw a plea. It is not simply something you can choose willy-nilly, though. The law requires you to show good cause in order to file a motion to withdraw your plea. That means one of the following must be true:

You agreed to the plea before you had a lawyer to advise you;

  • You had a lawyer but believe they were incompetent/ineffective;
  • When you agreed to the deal, you did not understand the potential consequences;
  • Law enforcement and/or prosecutors failed to advise you of your constitutional rights;
  • You agreed to the plea deal, but it was presented in a language other than your native tongue, and you did not completely understand what you were doing.

What is the Timeline and Process?

As a defendant, you can feasibly back out of the plea arrangement any time before you have actually been sentenced or within six months of the judgment being entered. (Under limited circumstances, you can change your plea after being convicted and sentenced, but it is a much more time-consuming and complicated process!) Prior to sentencing, your attorney will simply file the paperwork and then attend a hearing with you to try to demonstrate to the court that you have good cause to change your plea. Things can go one of two ways from there:

  • The judge can deny the motion and will sentence you based on the charges you pleaded guilty to; OR
  • The judge will grant the motion, and you will go back to the beginning, where you plead not guilty to charges at the arraignment. (Obviously, any benefits you might have reaped by agreeing to the deal are forfeited at this point).

Standing by You

The experienced and dedicated attorneys at Boertje & Associates always put our clients’ best interests first, fighting for the best possible outcomes. If you are looking to withdraw a plea, maybe we can help. Schedule a confidential consultation in our San Diego office today.

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