Can I Withdraw a Guilty Plea in My Orange County Criminal Case?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Apr 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

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You've entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors and pled guilty to a felony in Orange County, California. On second thought, however, you think you've made the wrong decision. You may be able to take your guilty plea back, but only under certain circumstances and only if you do it in time.

California law specifically provides an opportunity for criminal defendants in Orange County and elsewhere in the state to withdraw a plea of guilty or “no contest” by filing a Motion to Withdraw a Plea. Specifically, California Penal Code Section 1018 states that:

“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without counsel at the time of the plea the court shall, for a good cause shown, permit the plea of guilty to be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty substituted.”

You'll note that there are situations where a court shall permit a guilty plea to be withdrawn and those where a court may allow a plea to be withdrawn:

  • The court shall allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea if he or she was not represented by an attorney at the time he or she entered the plea.
  • The court may (or may not) allow a defendant to withdraw their plea if they were represented by counsel at the time of the plea.

In either situation, a defendant seeking to withdraw a plea must show “good cause” why they should be allowed to get out of the agreement they entered into with prosecutors. “Buyer's remorse” alone won't likely be sufficient, even if you were representing yourself at the time of the plea (which you shouldn't do).

What is “Good Cause” for Withdrawing a Guilty Plea?

“Good cause” for purposes of a motion to withdraw a plea can include a number of things, but mainly revolve around the idea that you either did not have a full understanding of the specifics or consequences of the plea or that you were misinformed about the nature of the plea.

Some examples of “good cause” include:

  • You represented yourself when pleading guilty to a felony (where the punishment would be less than death or life without parole) and the judge didn't advise you of your right to counsel, find that you understood the right to counsel and freely waived it, and you did not state open court, to the court, that you did not wish to be represented by an attorney. (Penal Code Section 1018)
  • You weren't aware of all the consequences of your plea.
  • You were coerced into entering your plea
  • You were represented by an incompetent lawyer
  • A language barrier or poor interpreter impacted your understanding of the plea agreement

In addition to showing good cause, a motion to withdraw a plea must be filed in a timely fashion. Specifically, you must file the motion either:

  • before you are sentenced, or
  • within six months of a probationary sentence (as opposed to a jail/prison sentence)

If you are considering entering into a plea bargain with Orange County prosecutors or have entered a plea and want to withdraw it, please give one of our experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyers a call to discuss your situation.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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