Tahl Waivers in California Criminal Cases

A Tahl waiver is when a defendant waives certain constitutional rights before pleading guilty or pleading no contest to a criminal charge. These waivers are used in California cases involving both misdemeanors and felonies.

Tahl waivers are meant to ensure that a defendant enters into a plea bargain knowingly and voluntarily. They also inform an accused of the consequences of waiving his rights.

The constitutional rights that a defendant waives by pleading guilty or no contest are:

  1. The right to a jury trial, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment;
  2. The right to confront witnesses, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment; and,
  3. The right against self-incrimination, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

A defective Tahl waiver may result in an invalid plea bargain. This is why California judges question defendants on their waiver and confirm that they want to give up their rights and plead guilty.

Most judges require that a Tahl waiver take place via a written agreement. However, some judges allow a defendant to enter into an oral plea bargain. In either event, an accused waives the same rights.

If a defendant decides to plead guilty or no contest in a criminal case, he may be able to later withdraw that plea under California Penal Code 1018 PC

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

attorney going over tahl waiver california
A Tahl waiver is when a defendant waives certain constitutional rights before pleading guilty or pleading no contest to a criminal charge.

1. The Legal Definition of a Tahl Waiver Under California Law

Sometimes in the California criminal court process, a defendant will decide to plead guilty or no contest to a criminal charge or charges. If he does, he must waive certain constitutional rights. A waiver of these rights is known as a Tahl waiver.

The term “Tahl” is used because the Tahl waiver was established in the 1969 California Supreme Court Case of In re Tahl.1 The court, in this case, stated that a defendant must knowingly and voluntarily waive certain rights in order for a guilty plea to be valid.

In the majority of California's criminal cases, a Tahl waiver takes the form of a written document or agreement. The document lists the rights that a defendant gives up by entering into a plea bargain. The defendant then typically initials and signs the document.

The judge presiding over the case reviews this agreement when the case is heard. The judge then, prior to a guilty or no contest plea being entered, normally asks the defendant if he understands the document and the rights that he is giving up.

Tahl waivers are used in both California misdemeanor cases and felony cases.

2. The Purpose of the Waiver

Tahl waivers are used because it's a big deal for an accused to give up certain constitutional rights. The waiver helps a judge ensure that:

  • A defendant is aware of these rights;
  • Understands that he does not have to surrender them; and,
  • Knows the consequences of waiving them.

Further, a guilty plea or a plea of no contest is only valid if the defendant is mentally clear on the terms of the plea bargain. And, the plea has to be knowing and voluntary.

Again, the Tahl waiver helps ensure that these requirements are met. Having a defendant sign an agreement (in which he waives his writes), and then state to the court that he understands the agreement, reinforces that a plea is entered into knowingly and voluntarily.

3. The Rights Given Up by a Tahl Waiver

In a Tahl waiver, the defendant surrenders three significant constitutional rights. These are:

  1. The right to a jury trial, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment;
  2. The right to confront witnesses, again guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment; and,
  3. The right against self-incrimination, guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.2

Tahl waivers also typically inform an accused that:

  • He is presumed innocent until proven guilty; and,
  • The prosecution has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
defendant standing before judge california
In a Tahl waiver, the defendant surrenders three significant constitutional rights.

4. The Result of a Defective Waiver

If a defendant does not officially perform a Tahl waiver, then a guilty plea might not be valid. The same holds true if a waiver is defective (for whatever reason).

An invalid plea is not a good thing and judges take great strides in ensuring that an accused understands what he is surrendering in a Tahl waiver.

For this reason, the judge will often discuss the waiver with the accused and:

  • Orally advise him of the rights that he is giving up;
  • Confirm that he does, in fact, wish to waive these rights;
  • Confirm that he wants to continue with a plea of guilty or no contest;
  • Ask if the defendant was forced or coerced into the plea; and,
  • Confirm that the plea is knowing and voluntary.

5. Specific Method/Form of a Tahl Waiver

Most California judges require that a Tahl waiver take place via a written agreement. However, some judges allow a defendant to enter into an oral plea bargain.

In many misdemeanor cases, a written agreement can be executed outside of court and entered into the record by the defendant's attorney.

In most other cases, the defendant, after initializing and signing the agreement, must appear before the judge presiding over the matter and confirm that he wishes to waive his rights.

Courts usually provide defendants, and their attorneys, with pre-drafted Tahl waiver agreements.

While all Tahl waivers involve the waiver of the same constitutional rights, waiver forms may vary depending on the nature of a case.

For example, some California courts have specific Tahl waiver forms for DUI cases. These forms may contain a “Watson disclosure,” which is critical in California DUI murder cases.

6. Withdrawing a Guilty Plea in a California Criminal Case

If a defendant decides to plead guilty or no contest in a criminal case, he may be able to later withdraw that plea under California Penal Code 1018 PC.

In order to withdraw a plea, an accused must do two things. These are:

  1. Show “good cause,” and,
  2. File a Motion to Withdraw a Plea.3

Good cause” means that an accused entered into a plea as the result of “incompetence, mistake, ignorance, inadvertence, or some other factor that demonstrates overreaching.”4

As to the Motion to Withdraw, it must be filed either:

  • Before the accused is sentenced; or,
  • Within six months of a probationary sentence (as opposed to a jail/prison sentence).

If all of the above takes place, then the defendant:

  • Must be given the opportunity to withdraw the plea and substitute it with a plea of not guilty if he pled guilty or no contest without an attorney; or,
  • May be given an opportunity to do the same if he pled guilty or no contest while he was represented by an attorney.5

Are you thinking of pleading guilty or no contest in a California criminal case? Call us for help…

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know is thinking about pleading guilty or no contest in a California criminal matter, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.


Legal References:

  1. In Re Tahl (1969) 1 Cal.3d 122.

  2. See same.

  3. California Penal Code 1018 PC.

  4. People v. Griffin (1950) 100 Cal.App.2d 546, 548.

  5. People v. Cruz (1974) 12 Cal.3d 562.

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