Appealing a Conviction After Pleading Guilty

The Constitution guarantees criminal defendants certain rights. Among these is the right to due process and a trial. But since you’ve told the judge in open court (and under oath) that you want to give up that right to a jury trial and plead "guilty," the factual issues and legal questions will not be decided by a judge or a jury. You won’t get to cross-examine witnesses in your criminal case. All that is left now is getting your sentence.

But moments after you do it, you begin to question if this was the correct move. The prosecutor didn’t seem to be trustworthy and you think she was bluffing about the evidence. You also think the police officer is lying. Perhaps the judge did something wrong when taking your plea. What now?

Here you’ll find a brief explanation of the feasibility of appealing a conviction after you enter a guilty plea, what the standard is for withdrawing your plea, and much more. It's important to always understand your trial rights and the maximum time behind bars you are looking at when considering pleading guilty in a criminal case, never let anyone pressure you, and always seek the advice of an experienced lawyer.

Plea Withdrawal: Good Cause Required

A motion to withdraw your guilty plea means you are asking the judge to let you take your plea back. It must be in writing and must explain why the judge should allow you to change your mind.

It's important to note that “buyer’s remorse” is not a good reason to withdraw a guilty plea. Meaning, just because are 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. It's a harsh reality, but one that requires serious consideration before you ever enter a plea. A good lawyer will help you understand all of this and then come to the right decision with you.

So when can a person appeal their conviction after a guilty plea? Typically, this can be done in cases where there is "good cause," such as:

  • Whether there's any factual basis for the plea,
  • Whether the defendant understood the charges against him,
  • Whether the defendant was informed of his Constitutional rights (right to trial, right to counsel), and
  • Whether there's any factual basis for the plea.

Filing a Motion with the Court

If you believe you meet the above test, then it will be important to file your motion to vacate with the clerk of the court immediately. These time limits tend to be very short depending on what court you are in—sometimes as little as ten days after a sentence has been imposed. If you change your mind later, you can always withdraw the motion. When in doubt, it's often better to file than not and be barred forever.

Habeas Corpus: Your Final Option

A petition 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. What this means is that you are raising arguments as to why the judge should allow you to withdraw the plea. 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. If 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, you may be able to win your case. While every case is different, as always, you should consider consulting with a lawyer.

Appealing a Conviction After a Guilty Plea: Additional Resources

Get a Free Criminal Case Review

Don’t despair if you’ve entered a guilty plea and think it was the wrong move. You may have options available to you that are worth exploring. The more important thing to remember is that time is of the essence. If you want to withdraw your plea, you’ll need to talk to a lawyer right away. Start now with a free criminal case review at no obligation.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified criminal lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

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