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Can I Take Back a Guilty Plea?

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Criminal Defense on Monday, August 5, 2019

Taking the guilty plea

Buyer’s remorse is a common phenomenon with any type of decision, but the stakes are higher when the subject of your regret is a guilty plea in a North Carolina criminal case. When you’re overwhelmed by the charges against you and the complexities of the legal process, the deal you worked out with the prosecution may have seemed wise at the time. Plus, if you didn’t have guidance from an experienced attorney, you probably weren’t aware of other options to resolve the charges. Regardless of the details, now you’re left wondering: “can I take back a guilty plea?”

The answer is far from simple and depends on numerous factors. However, our lawyers at Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys have the knowledge and experience in criminal law to get you closer to a definitive response. Please contact our Charlotte office to set up a no-cost consultation with a North Carolina criminal defense attorney who can provide you with important details.

Call us at (980) 237-4579, or our online contact form to get started on your case.

Understanding Plea Bargains in North Carolina

When you want to dispose of the criminal charges against you by entering an agreement with the prosecuting attorney, the resulting arrangement is referred to as a plea deal. Article 57 of North Carolina General Statutes authorizes a prosecutor and an accused individual to negotiate a resolution of the case, typically where the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense, or just one of multiple crimes. The basic steps are:

  1. Negotiating the agreement
  2. Preparing a written statement of the guilty plea
  3. Reading the plea in court
  4. Acceptance of the plea by the judge
  5. Sentencing based upon the lesser charges

Understanding these steps is important, because your rights to withdraw your guilty plea depend on where you are in the proceedings.

Can I Take Back a Guilty Plea Before the Court Approves It?

Yes, you can withdraw and decline the plea bargain at any point from Steps 1 – 3 above. You don’t need to provide a reason, and it doesn’t matter of the prosecutor contests your actions. However, it’s not always the best strategy to plead guilty too early in the process. You should conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether there are weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case or potential defenses to the charges. This is one of many reasons it’s important to retain counsel right away after your arrest.

What if the Court Already Accepted the Plea?

Even if you reach an agreement with the prosecutor, the judge must approve it. Usually, the court will accept your guilty plea under the circumstances stated in the agreement. Your case will move forward to the sentencing phase, where taking back your guilty plea may be tricky.

Pre-Sentencing Withdrawal of Guilty Plea:

If the court enters a sentence at the same hearing as the entering of your plea, there may not be much time to take it back. However, in many cases, there will be a separate proceeding for sentencing. Either way, you may be able to change your mind if you have a fair, just reason to do so. The judge will consider the length of time since you made your decision, whether you were represented by counsel, and many other factors.

Taking Back a Guilty Plea After Sentencing

Once the judge has issued the sentence based upon your plea bargain, the standard of proof is much higher. Instead of showing that you have a fair and just reason, you must demonstrate that entering the guilty plea is manifestly unjust under the circumstances. Courts are more willing to take your side and allow you to withdraw if you didn’t have a lawyer or didn’t understand the nature of your actions.

A North Carolina Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Assist with Your Case

While this information on withdrawing a guilty plea may be informative, it may also raise additional questions about your legal options. Our team at Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys is prepared to deliver the legal support you need, regardless of where you are in the criminal process. Please contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation with a skilled attorney. You can reach our Charlotte, NC office by calling (980) 237-4579, or our online contact form.