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Types of Pleas and Withdrawal of a Guilty Plea

Criminal Law

Not Guilty Pleas

When an accused has been charged with an offense, he has a choice of whether to enter a not guilty, a no contest, or a guilty plea. A not guilty plea is a plea in which the accused does not accept responsibility for the charged offense. After the accused has entered a not guilty plea, the matter is set for trial. Pre-trial procedures and trial preparations then begin.

No Contest or Nolo Contendere Pleas

A no contest plea is a plea in which the accused does not admit nor deny responsibility for the charged offense. This type of plea may only be made with the court’s consent. Such a plea is not admissible during civil proceedings regarding the same issue. However, the plea is admissible for enhancement purposes for other criminal proceedings that the accused may be charged with thereafter. No trial occurs with this type of plea.

Alford Pleas

An accused may make an Alford Plea, if applicable in their state. This type of plea is made when an accused purports their innocence although they chose to enter a guilty plea. If a strong factual basis exists supporting an Alford plea, the court will accept such plea. No trial occurs with this type of plea.

Guilty Pleas

A guilty plea is one in which an accused accepts responsibility for the offense or offenses charged in an information, indictment, or complaint. The judge will listen to the accused’s plea and ask the accused several questions to ensure that the plea is given in a free, intelligent, and voluntary manner. The accused must convince the court, usually by answering a plethora of questions, that they understand the veracity of the charge against them and understand that they are entering a guilty plea to that charge. Often times a guilty plea is entered after a plea agreement or plea bargain has been entered into with the prosecution. The court must:

  • Advise the accused of his rights and the consequences associated with his guilty plea.
  • Inform the accused of the maximum and minimum sentences that could be imposed.
  • Advise the accused of the rights that they are waiving by entering a guilty plea.
  • Advise the accused that they are entitled to counsel and may entitled to court appointed counsel if indigent.

There is no trial when the accused enters a guilty plea. After the court has accepted the guilty plea, the accused will be required to return, usually at a later date, for sentencing.

Withdrawal of a Guilty Plea

In most cases, an accused may ask permission to withdraw their guilty plea prior to sentencing. Depending upon the state court procedure, the accused is usually required to file a motion or petition to withdraw their guilty plea. The accused must file a timely motion to withdraw the plea and must set forth facts that would justify the withdrawal of the guilty plea. The accused must show the court that there is a fair and just reason supporting the withdrawal of the plea. Examples of grounds that may justify a withdrawal are:

  • The accused did not understand the consequences of their guilty plea.
  • Counsel was ineffective in violation of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
  • The prosecution failed to abide by the terms of a plea bargain agreement.
  • The court failed to inform the accused of the minimum and maximum penalties associated with entering a guilty plea.

If a plea of guilty is withdrawn, evidence of the plea is generally not admissible in any court proceedings.

Posted in: Criminal Law

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