The vast majority of criminal cases in New York are resolved by way of a negotiated plea agreement. That is to say, most cases do not proceed to trial and often involve the accused pleading guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a bargained-for sentence. With the prevalence of plea bargaining in our criminal justice system, courts are reluctant to allow somebody who has voluntarily withdraw a guilty plea (that is, take back) their plea of guilty.
New York Criminal Procedure Law
New York Criminal Procedure Law §220.60(3) governs a motion to withdraw a guilty plea. While CPL §220.60(3) establishes the legal ability to withdraw a guilty plea, it does not specify the criteria upon which a judge is supposed to decide whether to grant such a motion. The appellate courts and the New York Court of Appeals have established the rather limited circumstances under which a person should be allowed to withdraw their guilty plea. The limited basis for which a court may allow the withdrawal of a guilty plea include fraud, new evidence tending to prove innocence, judicial coercion, lack of voluntariness and serious mistakes or omissions by defense counsel in advising their client to accept a negotiated plea bargain.
Some Examples of defendant withdrawing guilty plea
Some examples of cases where the courts have allowed a defendant to withdraw their guilty plea based on judicial coercion include judges threatening to increase a person’s sentence if convicted after trial and threats to increase bail or remand a defendant into custody if they do not plead guilty. Serious errors by defense counsel, including failing to advise a client of the particular effects and terms of a proposed plea bargain or providing patently incorrect information can be the basis to withdraw a guilty plea. However, failing to advise a defendant about “collateral consequences” of a plea (e.g. effects on professional licenses, ability to receive certain government entitlements, etc.) are not a valid basis upon which a guilty plea may be withdrawn.
The list of reasons that are not a legally sufficient basis to withdraw one’s guilty plea is much longer. A simple change of heart by a defendant and second thoughts will not readily be granted to allow a defendant to withdraw their guilty plea. Simple, sudden assertions of innocence will also not be enough to undo a prior guilty plea. The reality is that our criminal justice system relies upon plea bargaining to keep the courts from coming to a grinding halt. Accordingly, judges are very reluctant to allow a defendant to withdraw their guilty plea and place their case back on a trial docket absent the showing of actual fraud or involuntariness.
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While the burden of convincing a judge to let a defendant withdraw their guilty plea is steep, it is not impossible. Experienced lawyers, like those of us here at Team Green Lawyers, have the benefit of decades of experience to help determine whether such a motion is practically possible under the unique circumstances of your case.