Withdrawing Your Guilty Plea

February 10, 2022 Criminal Defense

What is a Plea?

Plea bargaining is a method by which many criminal cases are disposed of without going to court. Essentially, both of the parties come to an agreement regarding the disposition of the case. Plea bargains are common because defendants can avoid the expense and time of going to trial, the risk of a more severe sentence, and the publicity that a trial could result in. The State also benefits by saving the time and expense of a full trial. Even the court system benefits by loosening up docket time by clearing away a trial.

The defendant or the State can begin the plea bargain process. Most commonly, a defendant will plead guilty to a less severe charge, or only one out of the many charged crimes. Another common scheme is for prosecutors to offer a less severe sentence in exchange for a defendant’s guilty plea. Under Florida law, a plea agreement is not finalized until it is officially accepted by the court.

Withdrawing a Guilty Plea Prior to Sentencing

Pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.170(f):

The court may in its discretion, and shall on good cause, at any time before a sentence, permit a plea of guilty or no contest to be withdrawn and, if judgment of conviction has been entered thereon, set aside the judgment and allow a plea of not guilty, or, with the consent of the prosecuting attorney, allow a plea of guilty or no contest of a lesser included offense, or of a lesser degree of the offense charged, to be substituted for the plea of guilty or no contest. The fact that a defendant may have entered a plea of guilty or no contest and later withdrawn the plea may not be used against the defendant in a trial of that cause.

As stated in the Rule, it is much easier to withdraw a guilty plea prior to sentencing. Before sentencing, the Florida Supreme Court advises lower courts to liberally apply this standard since the law favors a fair trial on the merits of the case.

In order to withdraw your guilty plea before sentencing, you need only make a motion asking the judge to do so. In fact, this motion does not even have to be written (though it is highly recommended). In the motion, you will need to show “good cause” for withdrawing your guilty plea. This usually means that you entered your plea involuntarily due to:

  • Mistake
  • Mental State
  • Duress
  • Surprise
  • Misrepresentation
  • Other relevant factors

Generally, you have to give good reason, as stated above, and merely stating that you are innocent of the crime charged or that new evidence has been found to prove your innocence will not suffice. If that happens, your plea will be seen as voluntary, and the court will not allow a withdrawal of the plea.

Withdrawing a Guilty Plea After Sentencing  

Withdrawing a guilty plea after sentencing is much more difficult than the alternative. In most cases, you can no longer withdraw your guilty plea. But, there are exceptions to this rule that would allow a defendant to withdraw their guilty plea after sentencing.

Under Florida law, courts have held that you can only withdraw a guilty plea post-sentencing if you can show that your guilty plea resulted in a “manifest injustice.” Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.170(l) states that the grounds for a post-sentencing motion to withdraw a plea must occur within thirty days “after the rendition of the sentence” and “only upon grounds specified in Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.140(b)(2)(A)(ii)(a)-(e).

The grounds stated include:

  • The lower tribunal’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction;
  • A violation of the plea agreement, if preserved by a motion to withdraw plea;
  • An involuntary plea, if preserved by a motion to withdraw plea;
  • A sentencing error, if preserved; or
  • As otherwise provided by law.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida and are considering entering a guilty plea, call a qualified and knowledgeable Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure that it is the best path forward. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience helping Florida’s defendants navigate plea bargaining and avoid a guilty disposition entirely. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Gabi D’Esposito

Back to Top