Can I withdraw a guilty plea?

A person can try to withdraw a guilty plea, but there are important time limits.

Many people call our firm and want to withdraw a guilty plea. Unfortunately, some people plead guilty without being fully informed by their lawyer of all the consequences of a guilty plea. Even more concerning, some people enter a guilty plea due to excessive pressure from their lawyer, or out of fear that the lawyer is not prepared for trial.

In some cases, we can help a person withdraw a guilty plea. But there are strict time limits, and the decision to allow a person to withdraw the plea is usually within the discretion of the judge.

Under Georgia law, a judge will allow someone to withdraw a guilty plea if the judge believes that withdrawing the plea is “necessary to correct a manifest injustice.” “Manifest injustice” can include being misled by an attorney regarding the consequences of pleading guilty, entering guilty plea involuntarily, or being misinformed as to the nature of a plea deal.

The time limits are also extremely important. In a recent case, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently reminded us that “it is well settled that a trial court does not have jurisdiction to entertain a motion to withdraw a guilty plea filed after the term of court in which the defendant was sentenced under the plea.”

In Merrick v. The State, the defendant pled guilty to one count of family violence battery and was sentenced during the trial court’s November 2016 term of court. Unhappy with her sentence, Merrick moved to withdraw her guilty several months later, during the February 2017 term of court. The court denied Merrick’s motion to withdraw her plea since the court’s power to grant such a motion expired after the November 2016 term ended.

The only way a defendant can withdraw a guilty plea after the term of court expires is by filing a petition for habeas corpus or direct appeal.

Don’t plead guilty until you know the consequences of a guilty plea.

Cases like Ms. Merrick’s show us that the longer someone waits to withdraw their guilty plea, the less likely they’ll be able to do it. The decision also highlights how important it is to know your rights when you’re considering entering a guilty plea in the first place.

Our lawyers never pressure a client to enter a guilty plea, and we always make sure our clients know exactly what they are doing if they decide a guilty plea is in their best interests. And, because we prepare every case for trial, our clients tend to get better plea offers to resolve their case than the clients of other lawyers who are not prepared to go to trial.

If you or someone you know is being pressured to enter a guilty plea, or has already entered a guilty plea and wants to withdraw it, give us a call and we will let you know if we can help. But don’t wait until it’s too late.