Can I Withdraw A Guilty Plea In A Criminal Case?
In any criminal prosecution, the defendant may choose to enter a guilty plea, thereby waiving their right to a trial on their guilt or innocence. But can the defendant change their mind? That is to say, can a guilty plea be withdrawn after the fact and a new plea of “not guilty” entered in its place?
Under Florida law, the trial court may permit the withdrawal of a guilty plea. If granted, the withdrawal effectively means the guilty plea never took place. The defendant is free to contest the charges at a trial, and the withdrawn plea cannot be used as evidence against them.
However, unless the defendant can show “good cause,” the trial court is not required to allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea. Rather, the court has the discretion to allow a withdrawal.
Florida Appeals Court Denies Murder Defendant’s Request to Change Plea
A recent decision from the Florida First District Court of Appeal, Harris v. State, illustrates the challenges a defendant may face in seeking to withdraw a guilty plea. This case involved the shooting death of a seven-year-old girl. Prosecutors alleged the defendant participated in the sale of an illicit gun sale in the parking lot of a shopping center. When the sale “went south,” in the appellate court’s words, gunfire erupted, and the girl was accidentally killed in the crossfire.
Before the trial court, the defendant initially entered a guilty plea to one charge of third-degree murder and one charge of discharging a firearm from a vehicle. The prosecution agreed to recommend a sentence of 25 years in prison. But prior to formal sentencing, the defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea.
The crux of the defendant’s argument was that he “misunderstood” the prosecution’s evidence against him. Basically, the defendant argued that he had been confused about the strength of the prosecution’s ballistics evidence. He now believed the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually fired the shot that killed the victim.
The judge refused to allow the defendant to withdraw his plea. He found the defendant’s claims that he misunderstood the evidence lacked credibility. Ultimately, the judge felt the defendant suffered from “buyer’s remorse,” i.e., he simply regretted pleading guilty. The court proceeded to sentence the defendant to 25 years in prison as per his earlier agreement with the prosecution.
On appeal, the defendant renewed his argument that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. The First District said no. It explained the trial judge acted reasonably in finding the defendant failed to show “good cause” requiring the court to allow withdrawal. And even though there was some evidence that suggested the defendant did not, in fact, fire the fatal shot, that information was known to the defense prior to entering the plea.
Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer Jose Baez Today
A guilty plea is never something to be entered into lightly, especially when the charge is a serious felony like murder. Before taking any irrevocable action it is crucial that you consult with an experienced Orlando homicide lawyer. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation with a member of our criminal defense team.