Penal Code 1018 PC is the California statute that allows defendants in California criminal court cases to withdraw their guilty plea or plea of no contest. A judge will typically grant or approve the motion upon a defendant’s showing of good cause. “Good cause” includes situations where the accused either did not understand the circumstances of a plea, did not enter a plea freely and voluntarily, or was not represented by a competent attorney.
The language of PC 1018 reads, “On application of the defendant at any time before judgment or within six months after an order granting probation is made if entry of judgment is suspended, the court may, and in case of a defendant who appeared without counsel at the time of the plea the court shall, for a good cause shown, permit the plea of guilty to be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty substituted.”
If a judge grants a motion to withdraw a plea, the defendant returns to the arraignment portion of his/her case and begins the case anew.
If a denial, a defendant can still try to avoid or challenge a sentence by:
Our California criminal defense lawyers will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is a motion to withdraw a plea under California law?
- 2. What is a “good cause” showing?
- 3. What happens if I win my motion to withdraw a plea?
- 4. What happens if I lose my motion?
1. What is a motion to withdraw a plea under California law?
Under the law, the withdrawal of a plea takes place by an accused filing a motion with the court. Defendants must file the motion either:
- before they are sentenced, or
- within six months of a probationary sentence (as opposed to a jail or state prison sentence).1
If a judge grants the motion, the defendant is given the opportunity to withdraw a prior plea and substitute it with a plea of not guilty.
In general, defendants file a motion to withdraw a plea when they realize that pleading guilty or pleading no contest is not in their best interest. This might be the case, for example, when they:
- discover they are going to incur an unexpected penalty,
- believe they were represented by an incompetent lawyer or the victim of ineffective assistance of counsel, or
- realize they made a mistake in accepting a plea agreement or plea deal.2
Example: Bill enters a guilty plea to criminal charges of robbery and admits that he had personally used a gun during the commission of his crime. He pleads guilty because he believes he will receive a probation sentence for the charge in return for admitting that he used a gun. The court, however, eventually finds Bill ineligible for probation despite the gun admission.
Here, Bill’s criminal defense attorney can submit a motion to withdraw Bill’s original guilty plea. This is because Bill likely would not have entered into a plea bargain if he knew at the time that he was ineligible for probation. If the motion is granted, Bill can withdraw his plea of guilty and substitute it with a not guilty plea.
Note that it may be possible for a defendant to withdraw a plea once he/she has been incarcerated. But these proceedings will be handled differently, either via a Writ of Habeus Corpus or through expungement proceedings.
2. What is a “good cause” showing?
A judge will only grant a PC 1018 motion to withdraw a plea if an accused shows “good cause” for withdrawal of the plea. California law does not allow a defendant to withdrawal a plea simply because he/she regrets to pleading guilty.
“Good cause” generally means that a defendant entered a plea as the result of:
- inadvertence, or
- some other factor that demonstrates overreaching.3
A defendant must establish good cause by clear and convincing evidence. “Clear and convincing evidence” is a legal standard by which defendants must prove that it is substantially more likely than not that they would not have entered a guilty or no contest plea had they known all the facts at the time of the plea.
In practice, defendants can typically establish good cause if they show that they were:
- not represented by an attorney at the time of the plea,
- not aware of the consequences of a plea,
- coerced into a plea,
- not represented by a competent lawyer, or
- prejudiced by a language barrier.
2.1. Not represented by an attorney
Defendants can typically establish good cause by showing that:
- they entered a plea of guilty or no contest while representing themselves, and
- the judge did not confirm that they understood they had a right to a lawyer.
Note, though, that defendants will not prevail on a motion if they represented themselves and the judge explained that they had a right to a lawyer. The key to winning the motion in these cases is based upon the judge’s instructions.
2.2. Not aware of the consequences of the plea
A defendant will usually make a good cause showing by proving that he/she was not aware of a significant part of a sentence at the time of pleading guilty or no contest. Three common examples of when this occurs include when defendants are not aware that:
- a conviction results in mandatory jail or prison time,
- a guilty plea can produce a professional licensing suspension or revocation, and
- a guilty or no contest plea can have negative immigration consequences.
As to professional licensing, Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi explains, “Oftentimes convictions affect professional licenses in California. This is a fact which many lawyers fail to tell their clients when they engage in plea bargaining or sentencing. If you are a professional, and at the time you enter a guilty or no contest plea you were not aware that your license could be at risk, you may prevail on this type of motion.”
With regards to negative immigration consequences, consider a real case where Jose Giron (a lawfully admitted permanent resident alien) pled guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Neither he nor the court realized that a plea to possession of marijuana would subject him to deportation. After being notified by the INS that that was the case, he filed his Motion to Withdraw a Plea which was successful.4
2.3. Coerced into a plea
A criminal court will typically grant a PC 1018 motion if an accused was threatened, coerced, or lured into pleading guilty or no contest.
A perfect example lies in the real case of Steven Sandoval Jr. Steven pled guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge that required him to serve a 27-year state prison sentence. After pleading, Sandoval filed a winning PC 1018 Motion because:
- a co-defendant, a fellow gang member, threatened to hurt him in prison if he didn’t plead guilty, and
- the judge improperly pressured him to plead guilty.5
2.4. Not represented by a competent lawyer
Ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the most common legal grounds for filing a Motion to Withdraw a Plea. For example, a defendant can prevail on a motion if his/her attorney did not:
- properly investigate the case,
- present enough mitigating circumstances to obtain a less severe sentence, or
- file and argue the appropriate motions.
The key issue here is whether or not an accused lawyer’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Note that this is a difficult argument to present, as courts do not like to second-guess an attorney’s tactical decisions.
However, defendants will usually prevail on a motion if they can show that their lawyer did not provide a reasonable level of guidance or representation and led them into a “bad deal.”
2.5. Prejudiced by a language barrier
This issue normally arises when a defendant uses an interpreter at the time of entering a plea. In this situation, a defendant will typically win a PC 1018 motion upon showing, at the time of entering a plea, that the interpreter was not exclusively interpreting for the accused.6
3. What happens if I win my motion to withdraw a plea?
When defendants prevail on a motion to withdraw a plea, they essentially begin their criminal case anew at an arraignment.
One result is that a prosecutor, at his/her discretion, can void any “deals” that might have been made with the accused.7 This means, for example, that if a defendant pleads guilty to trespass in exchange for the dismissal of a grand theft charge, and then wins a PC 1018 motion, the prosecutor has the right to reinstate all the original charges, including the grand theft charge.
4. What happens if I lose my motion?
A defendant that loses a motion to withdraw is bound by the terms of his/her plea. The accused can still try to challenge a sentence by:
- filing an appeal, or
- getting the conviction expunged.
4.1. The California appeals process
An accused can file an appeal to challenge a judge’s decision to deny a motion to withdraw a plea.
The accused will likely succeed with the appeal if he/she can show that the judge:
- made a legal error in the denial, or
- abused his/her discretion.
4.2. California’s expungement laws
If a defendant cannot withdraw a plea and is found guilty of a crime, he/she can try to expunge the record of the criminal conviction.
Defendants file for an expungement after they have fully completed their probation sentence and have no additional charges pending.
If successful, the conviction is essentially erased from the defendant’s record.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with one of our criminal defense attorneys, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles, Glendale, Orange County, Riverside, and San Bernardino. See our related article on Can you appeal a guilty plea?
- California Penal Code 1018 PC.
- See, for example, People v. Caban (1983) 148 Cal.App.3d 706.
- People v. Griffin (1950) 100 Cal.App.2d 546. See also People v. Huricks (1995) 32 Cal. App. 4th 1201.
- People v. Superior Court (Giron) (1974) 11 Cal.3d 793.
- People v. Sandoval (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 111.
- See, for example, People v. Aguilar (1984) 35 Cal.3d 785.
- See, for example, People v. Superior Court (Garcia) (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 256.