Appealing a Conviction After Pleading Guilty

It's essential to always understand your trial rights, the consequences of a criminal conviction, and the maximum time behind bars you are facing. Never let anyone pressure you into pleading guilty in a criminal case, and always seek the advice of an experienced lawyer.

Every American citizen has the same basic set of rights. The Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to due process and a speedy jury trial. If you enter a plea agreement, you must tell the judge in open court, while under oath, that you want to give up the right to a jury trial and plead guilty. Neither the judge nor a jury will decide the factual issues and legal questions. You won't get to cross-examine witnesses in your criminal case. All that's left now is receiving your sentence.

However, moments after entering a plea, you might question whether this was the correct move. The prosecutor didn't seem trustworthy, and you think they're bluffing about the evidence. You also think the police officer is lying. The trial court judge may have done something wrong when taking your plea. What do you do now?

Below is a brief explanation of the feasibility of appealing a conviction after entering a guilty plea, and the standard for withdrawing your plea.

Plea Withdrawal: Good Cause Required

It's important to note that "buyer's remorse" is not a good reason to withdraw a guilty plea. It's a harsh reality that requires serious consideration. Just because you're alleged to have committed a robbery and saw a defendant get acquitted for the same offense on your favorite crime show doesn't mean you can now withdraw your plea.

Before you enter a plea, the trial judge will ask whether you understand the constitutional rights you are about to waive. You will attest that your plea is a voluntary, knowing, intelligent trial waiver consistent with state criminal procedures or Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

In the post-conviction phase, filing a written motion is the first step to walking back your guilty or no-contest plea. A motion to withdraw your guilty plea must include good cause and explain why the judge should allow you to change your mind.

Elements that should be included for your good cause claim:

  • You should provide factual basis for the plea. This is a defendant's knowing admission of guilt to all elements of the criminal charges.
  • You should confirm that you, the defendant, understood the charges against you and other collateral consequences. This may also include potential sentencing ranges and enhancements. 
  • You should establish whether or not you were informed of your Constitutional rights, including the right to an impartial jury trial, right to counsel, right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and so on.
  • You should confirm or deny that your plea as defendant was voluntary. This includes whether the plea entered was by the defendant's free will or whether threats or false promises induced it.

Filing a Motion With the Court

If you believe you meet the above test, file your motion with the district court clerk. Remember, many state laws allow a defendant to withdraw the plea for any fair and just reason before sentencing.

After sentencing, the criminal procedure timelines to file a motion tend to be very short, depending on whether you are in state or federal court. The deadline could be as little as ten days after a sentence has been imposed to correct a manifest injustice.

If you change your mind later, you can always withdraw the motion. When in doubt, it's often better to file rather than get barred forever.

Petition of Habeas Corpus

writ of habeas corpus may be your best option if you have missed the deadline to file or the judge denies your request to withdraw your plea. This is a petition claiming your imprisonment is unconstitutional. The writ of habeas corpus is often combined with ineffective assistance of counsel claims and filed in state or federal court.

Habeas corpus is an additional avenue to challenge your imprisonment based on the following:

  • Wrongful convictions
  • Illegal sentences
  • Systematic errors
  • New evidence

This is a last-ditch effort used after a direct appeal has failed. Every case is different. Consider consulting an appeals lawyer for legal advice.

Appealing a Conviction After a Guilty Plea

Defendants can file a direct criminal appeal of their conviction or sentence with a higher court, such as the state or federal Court of Appeals or Supreme Court. If you are successful during the appeals process, the appellate court's decision can:

  • Set aside the judgment and discharge the petitioner
  • Require resentencing the petitioner after a sentencing hearing
  • Grant a new trial or make other disposition as may be appropriate

Another avenue you can explore is filing a petition for post-conviction relief. This type of petition must be filed after a direct appeal. Additionally, it may not be based on grounds that could have been raised on direct appeal of the conviction or sentence.

For example, let's say you pled guilty to hit and run but know you weren't driving the car. You just wanted to put this all behind you. Suppose you later discover that there's video evidence of the accident that shows the driver was actually your brother-in-law, who took your car without permission. In that instance, you can likely win your case.

Get Legal Help Appealing a Conviction After Pleading Guilty

Don't despair if you've entered a guilty plea and now think it was the wrong choice to make. A seasoned appeals attorney can review options. The important thing to remember is that time is of the essence.

A criminal defense lawyer can:

  • File a timely notice of appeal
  • Review your criminal law case for errors during the plea bargain phase
  • Assess whether ineffective assistance of counsel could have changed the outcome

If you want to withdraw your plea, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and learn about your options.

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