Motion to Withdraw the Plea

A “motion to withdraw” allows you to take back a plea of guilty or no contest. You can use it if you were misled or did not receive proper legal counsel, and you later discover that the plea you entered is not in your best interest.

The first step in a DUI case is a hearing called an arraignment where the defendant officially enters a plea: either guilty, not guilty, or no contest. In an ideal world, you would only plead guilty if you really did believe you were guilty of the crime, and only after getting proper legal counsel. Our legal system, however, allows the prosecution to offer “deals” to the defendant—plea bargains—where you plead guilty or no contest even if you’re not guilty, or even if there’s some legal doubt whether the prosecution could prove the case against you. Sometimes these deals are good for the defendant, and help you avoid serious consequences and move on with your life. In other cases, however, defendants end up pleading guilty for the wrong reasons—and only find out later what a bad idea it was. In these circumstances, you can use a motion to withdraw the plea.

The “motion to withdraw” is a formal request asking the court to let you take back your plea. If the judge grants it, the proceedings will effectively “rewind” back to the arraignment. Any deals you made with the prosecution are undone, and you get a new chance at the trial.

The reason you may want to consider a motion to withdraw include:

  • You find out you’re going to face a penalty you didn’t expect to face
  • Your attorney is incompetent
  • You believe you would have a better chance if you started the process over without a guilty plea, and you are willing to take the chance of doing so

The judge must see that you have legal grounds for the motion, however. If they think there you have no “good cause,” they will not approve it.

What counts as good cause for withdrawing a plea?

You can’t withdraw a plea just because you regret entering it. You only have good cause if you were in some way uninformed about the consequences that would come with it. The most common grounds for a motion to withdraw include:

  • You had no legal representation when you entered your plea, and the judge did not make clear the consequences for proceeding without a lawyer
  • You were coerced, threatened or intimidated into the plea
  • You had an incompetent lawyer
  • A language barrier prevented you from fully understanding the implications of your plea
  • You were not aware of all of the consequences of your plea when you entered it

This last one is common in DUI cases, because so many DUIs involve a plea deal. If there is some reason the prosecutor cannot hold up their end of the bargain, you would have clear grounds for withdrawing your plea.

Can I withdraw my plea after being convicted?

In general you can only use a motion to withdraw before you are sentenced (or up to six months after sentencing, if it’s a probationary sentence). However, there are other ways to challenge your initial plea if you are already convicted, such as a writ of habeas corpus.

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