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Pressure From Family, Lawyer Not Enough to Withdraw Guilty Plea

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 19, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An Iowa woman won't be allowed to withdraw a plea agreement she says she was pressured to accept, the Eighth Circuit ruled yesterday. After a heroin user overdosed and died, a police investigation identified Lacresia White as the decedent's supplier. Following a series of undercover buys, which may have involved White's six year old daughter, police arrested White and charged her with conspiracy to distribute heroin that lead to death.

White accepted a plea deal that would help her avoid a 20 year sentence, but quickly regretted it. That was too late, the Eighth Circuit ruled. Since White could allege no coercion aside from family pressure, she put forward no "fair and just" reason to withdraw her plea.

Pressured to Accept the Plea Agreement

White had originally rejected a plea deal, choosing to go to trial. After particularly strong evidence was presented against her, prosecutors offered another deal.

White's attorney, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, strongly urged White to accept. If his urging wasn't enough, he also set up a meeting between White and her family members, where her husband, mother and daughter begged her to plead guilty. She agreed.

White soon changed her mind, writing her attorney to say her guilty plea was "fabrication and fictitious" and she wished to withdraw it. The attorney responded over a week later, urging her to reconsider. He did not file a motion to withdraw the plea. At sentencing, White asked to withdraw her plea; her attorney withdrew as counsel.

No Fair and Just Reason to Withdraw

Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a plea can be withdrawn after accepted by the court if a defendant can provide a "fair and just" reason to withdraw it. At a hearing on her motion to withdraw the plea, the district court noted that her quick regret over pleading guilty weighed in favor of granting a withdrawal. But it did not weigh enough.

That she was under pressure was not a "fair and just" reason to withdraw her plea, the Eighth Circuit held. Family pressure may influence one's decision to plead guilty, but it does not make that decision involuntary or coerced. Since White can put forward no better reasons, her guilty plea cannot be withdrawn, according to the court.

That's bad news for White, who it seems wanted to contest the charges despite the risk of a conviction. It may have saved her a few years in prison, however -- both the district and Eighth Circuit courts note, several times, that she was likely to be found guilty.

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