If you entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere in a Florida court, and you want to withdraw your plea, contact only an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area. The process of withdrawing a plea can be difficult and demands the highest level of legal expertise from your lawyer.
The process of entering a guilty plea or a plea nolo contendere should only be considered after extensive discussion and consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable, and respected criminal defense attorney. No one should ever agree to admit guilt in a criminal case unless they are thoroughly convinced that it is the best course of action for them in light of the evidence and their own personal and family circumstances.
Entering Guilty or Nolo Pleas
Advising a client to enter a guilty or nolo plea is the last thing any criminal defense attorney wants to do. It is the last resort when all other more advantageous courses of action are exhausted.
Defending a person charged with a crime involves analyzing every piece of evidence in great detail. That requires finding any weaknesses in the prosecution’s evidence, a witness whose reliability or credibility can be challenged, investigating the scene and looking for other witnesses who may have evidence favoring the defendant, and listening to the client. Experienced defense attorneys file motions in court to prevent evidence from being admitted based on an illegal search or seizure, or a rule of evidence that renders the evidence inadmissible.
Despite these and many other strategies used to help the defendant avoid a conviction, there are some cases in which the prosecution’s evidence is too strong to overcome at trial, and negotiating a favorable plea agreement offers the most beneficial disposition for the client.
Withdrawing Your Guilty or Nolo Plea
Your lawyer should have taken great care in counseling you about the significance and the consequences of entering a nolo or guilty plea. Then, the judge should have confirmed through probing questions whether you understood all the rights you were giving up by entering a plea admitting the charges. Unfortunately, some lawyers find the “waiver of rights” conversation to be so routine that they read the form to the client without explaining every right being waived.
Likewise, some judges become so complacent that they fail to ensure the defendant is entering a “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary plea,” as required by law.
Grounds to Withdraw Your Guilty or Nolo Plea
In Florida, the law permits a defendant to request to withdraw their guilty or nolo plea both before sentencing and after sentencing. While withdrawing a guilty or nolo plea before sentencing is not common or convenient for the court, attempting to do so after the court has imposed a sentence is much more challenging.
What Can Justify Withdrawal of Your Guilty or Nolo Plea?
Before a sentence is imposed, the law provides that a defendant must show “good cause” for the plea to be withdrawn and a not guilty plea to be reinstated. It is within the judge’s discretion whether the reason the defendant wants to undo their plea meets the “good cause” standard. If the grounds for your request are not apparent on the face of the court record, then the judge must conduct an evidentiary hearing to consider your claims. But if a defendant claims they were never told they were waiving their right to appeal, a judge may review the court transcript and find that the defendant was told about the waiver of appeal in open court.
There are many reasons a judge will accept as “good cause” to grant a motion to withdraw a guilty or nolo plea before sentencing if they accept your claim after a hearing:
- You did not “knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily” enter the guilty/nolo plea
-You did not understand what your lawyer was explaining during the pre-rights-waiver discussion,
-You did not appreciate the true consequences of the rights you were giving up,
-You were under the influence of some substance that fogged your understanding,
-You just followed your lawyer’s advice but you felt pressured by them,
-You did not understand what your defenses were,
- You are not factually guilty (insufficient facts to support the guilty plea)
- You did not know about lesser included offenses,
- You or your family were threatened,
- Your lawyer didn’t explain the “collateral consequences” required by law (deportation, loss of license, registering as a sex offender, losing your right to vote, etc.)
- There is new evidence in the defendant’s favor
- The plea agreement’s terms were violated by the prosecution
If the judge finds your claims credible, they can approve your request to withdraw your guilty/nolo plea. However, the decision is purely at the discretion of the judge and can only be overturned if a higher court finds that the judge’s denial was an “abuse of discretion.”
After the sentence is imposed, a defendant who wishes to withdraw their guilty/nolo plea must convince the judge that failing to do so would result in “manifest injustice,” a much tougher standard of proof. The trial court “does not enjoy broad discretion as to motions filed after sentencing.”i
After sentencing, a defendant who entered a guilty or nolo plea without expressly reserving their right to appeal an issue has 30 days after the imposition of the sentence to file a motion to withdraw their plea.ii
Demonstrating a “manifest injustice” requires the defendant to identify a denial of their rights as in the list of grounds listed above.
Contact Experienced Criminal Defense Counsel Immediately to Withdraw a Guilty/Nolo Plea
Because withdrawing a guilty or nolo plea is an uncommon request, few practicing criminal defense lawyers have experience preparing, researching, drafting such a motion, and arguing its merits. The process can require the lawyer handling the motion to question the actions of your former lawyer or a judge.