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Motion to Withdraw a Plea – California Penal Code 1018

Posted by Sam Israels | Feb 17, 2020

The withdrawal of a Plea is described California Penal Code 1018, which grants a defendant the right to withdrawal a guilty or no-contest plea, if there is good cause.

This means a defendant who pleads guilty in a criminal case part of a plea agreement, could decide they made a mistake and now believe they should have pleaded not guilty. In this type of situation, a defendant will need a lawyer to help them file a Motion for Withdrawal of Plea, which a request to the court asking them to take back the plea.

If the motion is granted, the legal proceedings will go back to the arraignment. If the defendant had reached a plea bargain with the prosecutor, it will be voided and there is an opportunity for a trial. It should be noted a defendant must have legal grounds to withdraw a guilty plea. This means a defendant can't just withdraw a guilty plea because they just regretted the decision to plead guilty.

Legal grounds to withdraw a plea can include bad communication between a defendant and their criminal lawyer.  For example, a defendant may have not been sufficiently told about the weaknesses in the prosecutor's case.

Another example includes a situation where a defendant agrees to plead guilty in a plea bargain, but before they are sentenced, they discover the plea bargain is different from what they agreed to and they were not properly informed of the consequences.

If you are seeking a withdrawal of your guilty plea, you need to consult with a criminal defense lawyer who will need to review the details of the case to determine whether a motion for withdrawal of plea has any chance of success. There are many situations where filing the motion to withdraw plea will not be in the defendant's best interest as it could result in a harsher sentence.

To give readers a better understanding of a motion to withdraw a plea, our Los Angeles criminal lawyers are providing an overview below.

Definition of California Penal Code 1018 – Withdrawing a Plea

California Penal Code 1018 PC defines withdrawing a plea:

  • All pleas will be entered or withdrawn by the defendant in open court. A defendant, any time before judgment or within 6 months after being granted probation and judgment is suspended, the court can, for a good cause shown, permit the plea of guilty to be withdrawn and a plea of not guilty substituted.

It's important to discuss the key phrase “for a good cause shown.” What does that mean? In simple terms, a defendant must have a valid legal reason to withdraw their plea.

Penal Code 1018 requires a defendant to show “good cause” to file a motion of withdrawal of plea. This means a defendant must be able to demonstrate the guilty plea was entered in court due to a mistake, ignorance, or other factor proving they didn't intend to enter a guilty plea.

The California criminal justice system defines “good cause” as any of the following relating to a defendant in a criminal case:

  • Didn't have a lawyer when they agreed to a plea bargain
  • Had incompetent lawyer or ineffective assistance
  • Didn't understand the consequences of the plea bargain
  • Was not advised of constitutional rights
  • There was a language barrier when plea was entered

For example, a defendant agrees to a plea bargain, but discovers later it could lead to deportation and they were not advised of the consequences.

If the court decides to grant a motion to withdrawal of plea, then the criminal case will be placed back into the same position before the guilty plea. The defendant will then have then have the right to negotiate a new plea bargain or take the case to trial.

Legal Process to Withdraw a Plea

A defendant can file a motion to withdraw the plea before sentencing, or up to 6 months after they were sentenced, as long as it's a probationary sentence.

Any defendant who wants to seek to withdraw a guilty plea, a motion of withdrawal of plea needs to be prepared by a criminal defense lawyer and filed with the court.

A motion of withdrawal of plea can be filed at any time before sentencing, or within six months of the entry of judgment. After the motion has been filed with the court, their criminal attorney will work to prepare a solid case that proves to the court they entered a plea without a clear understanding about the plea conditions.

At the actual hearing where the motion is decided, the lawyer will present the case in such a way to persuade the judge you do have the required “good cause” to withdrawal the plea, next:

  • If motion to withdraw plea is denied, the judge will proceed to sentencing
  • If motion to withdraw plea is granted, the case is reopened and defendant enters a not guilty plea and starts over at the arraignment process

As stated, if a defendant files a motion to withdraw a guilty or no-contest plea, any plea bargain that may have been previously offered by the prosecutor is no longer valid.

Withdrawing a Plea After Conviction

If a defendant was already convicted and sentenced, withdrawing a guilty plea is a complicated process, but there are a few options to make a challenge to the initial plea.

A defendant would then need to submit a petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, or a motion to vacate a conviction or sentence described under California Penal Code 1473.7. 

The primary goal of a habeas corpus is get a conviction overturned based on new evidence of an improper legal process in the trial. Again, this is a complex process that will require legal representation from a lawyer with experience in the appeals process.

If you believe you have good cause to file a motion to withdraw a plea, contact our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers to review the details and options.

We have decades of combined experience and understand how to make an effective argument to withdraw guilty and no-contest pleas.

Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. We also have an office located at 401 Wilshire Blvd #1200, Santa Monica, CA 90401. 

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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