Under the law, one is able to withdraw a plea of guilty on a criminal case “if it appears that justice may not have been done.”
However, these requests to withdraw a guilty plea are not granted in a number of situations, so one should first identify the kinds of instances where they are successfully granted. When they are granted, the typical reason is that, at the time of the plea, some procedure during the actual plea was not properly followed such as one was not specifically informed of the rights they were giving up if they either pled guilty or admitted to an offense.
The reason this can be tough is that at the time of the plea, Massachusetts, similar to the courts in every other state, has one sign a piece of paper stating all the rights one is giving up such as the right to a trial and also gives a variety of warnings such as the immigration consequences of a guilty plea if not a citizen, The judge will then, on the record, verbally go over these waivers of rights and warnings with the defendant before a plea is accepted. The courts do this because they do not want someone to admit to or plead guilty to something, then come back, let’s say, a week or two later, saying they didn’t know what they were doing when they pleaded guilty because they were, perhaps, nervous and nothing was explained to them. The court would then pull out the signed sheet and the recorded audio showing that the person repeatedly confirmed they knew they were giving up their right to trial, knowingly, willingly and voluntarily.
One of the reasons all courts without exception insist on these waivers of rights by the defendant before accepting a plea is because only approximately 6 percent of all criminal charges in American courts result in a trial. The majority plead guilty or admit to the offense unless the case is dismissed earlier. Courts do not want to unnecessarily have to constantly reopen and proceed all over again on cases that were already disposed of and closed.
So, it is not good enough for someone with a previous conviction to come forward and ask the judge to “un-do” the guilty plea because they’ve stayed out of trouble for years following their conviction or it is hurting their employment or school opportunities or just that they weren’t using good judgment at the time of the plea and, on second thought, would have preferred a trial. Some of those kinds of arguments might, on the other hand, be good reasons for requesting that ones record be sealed. But these reasons are not generally accepted as a sufficient reason to make the guilty conviction essentially disappear so that it never happened through a withdrawn plea.
Still, one shouldn’t be completely discouraged since a number of these requests to withdraw a plea – made through what is referred to as a Motion for a New Trial – are successfully granted. Occasionally, it is discovered that the official court paperwork is missing or left blank or filled out erroneously and this might be a reason to withdraw the plea. Also, there are times when the judge or the defense lawyer, indeed, did not adequately explain to the defendant the rights he or she were giving up when they did the plea.
Recently, a great many motions to withdraw a guilty plea have been granted in cases where a defendant who is not a citizen was not adequately explained his or her immigration rights and now claim to be surprised that the plea they made in the past is now the cause of them being deported or facing other immigration consequences.
The reason many of these cases have been particularly successful is due to a decision that came down several years ago called Padilla v. Kentucky. That case said that it is no longer sufficient if the non-citizen doing the plea was only warned in a general way that a plea might have immigration consequences such as deportation, preventing one from ever becoming a citizen or would block one’s readmission into the United States if they travel outside it. The case said that attorneys and the court must advise a person that their guilty plea clearly and unambiguously “will” result in their deportation if the particular law they broke makes deportation or other very specific punishments inflexibly definite. This is a new law that can be applied retroactively. That means that, even if you had an excellent attorney who did everything right for your plea years ago under the law as it existed before the law changed under the Padilla case, you will still have an opportunity to get your guilty plea reversed and thrown out.
There are a number of other reasons why a guilty plea can be withdrawn and an experienced attorney can advise you on your chances of success. Contact me today for a free consultation.