What often happens in court is that a criminal defendant will plead guilty to reduce their sentence or to avoid prison. However, there is a chance that new evidence may surface or that the defendant would change their mind. In Florida, it is possible to withdraw a guilty plea before or after sentencing, but doing so comes with some challenges.
Pros and cons of accepting a plea bargain
Taking a case to court is time-consuming and expensive for all parties. Plea bargaining helps speed up the process by avoiding a lengthy trial. In cases where a judge is convinced that a suspect is guilty of a crime, accepting a plea bargain could result in a lighter sentence for the defendant.
However, pleading guilty may sometimes come at a disadvantage for the defendant. Accepting the plea bargain means that they are guilty of the crime, even if they only accepted it to reduce their sentence.
Meanwhile, going to trial would give the defendant a chance to be acquitted, in other words, not guilty. If the court finds the defendant guilty, the conviction will remain on their record until they take the necessary steps to have it expunged.
Get the timing right
It is simpler to take back a guilty plea before sentencing than after. Florida law allows individuals to withdraw a guilty plea before a sentence at any time as long as there is a good cause.
Examples of good cause can be entering the plea by mistake or due to failure to understand the plea, poor legal representation, false promises or any other relevant reason. Taking back a guilty plea before sentencing can be as simple as making a motion to the judge and asking for it.
Stricter requirements apply if the defendant wants to withdraw a guilty plea after sentencing. First, the defendant must file a motion to withdraw the plea within 30 days of sentencing. Second, they must prove that denying the request would result in a manifest injustice.
Despite getting the timing right, withdrawing a guilty plea can be difficult without a lawyer. It is not just about filing a motion; defendants also need to work hard and convince the judge to allow it. Before accepting a plea bargain, it may help to consult a skilled criminal defense lawyer about other options.