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How to Vacate a Plea of Guilty

A judge that has accepted a plea of guilty after the information has been read to an accused would only allow the withdrawal of or vacation of a plea of guilty in specific circumstances. One of these situations include the failure to properly apprise the accused of the consequences that can result in the entry of a plea of guilty.

Before there is even a hearing on the motion to vacate a plea of guilty, the defendant through counsel must file a motion to vacate the plea. The effect of the grant of such motion would not be the dismissal of the case but re-entry of the case into the court's calendar. The accused can then enter another plea or not enter a plea at all and proceed to trial.

The grant of the motion to vacate the plea is not an absolute right of the accused but is dependent on the discretion of the judge who had jurisdiction over the case, as to grant or deny the said motion after hearing the merits. The following are the factors that judges rely on in making their decision:

  • The presence of a believable claim of innocence, as this is the core concern as to convicting a clearly innocent individual;
  • The nature and strength of the reasons to justify withdrawal of the plea;
  • The nature of the plea deal, if it was just or may result in unfair prejudice against the state and unfair advantage to the accused;

In guiding the court's determination of a colorable claim to vacate entered plea, the Supreme Court has said that a mere bare assertion of innocence is insufficient by itself. There must be a presentation of specific and credible facts, such as voluntary entry of plea, presence of a lawyer of choice or appointment, clear understanding of charges made, knowledge of constitutional rights, understanding of the consequences of the entered plea and competent assistance of counsel.

When the motion to vacate entry of plea of guilt is filed with the court is crucial to its eventual grant or denial. When the motion is made right after entry of plea or reasonable time thereafter, the court may hear the same before proceeding with the sentencing. When it is made after sentencing, only when the court with jurisdiction finds the need to correct a manifest injustice would such a motion be granted due course.

The following are the other grounds of vacating a plea of guilty:

  • Unlawful inducement or lack of voluntariness in making the plea or lack of understanding as to the nature of the accusations and its consequences;
  • Use of coerced confession to obtain plea of guilty or the use of fraudulent evidence presented to court;
  • Use of evidence obtained from an unconstitutional search and seizure or unlawful arrest;
  • Conviction using evidence in violation of the right against self incrimination or against double jeopardy;
  • Conviction through the failure of the prosecution to disclose exculpatory evidence for the accused or through unconstitutionally paneled jury of peers;
  • Conviction through denial of assistance of counsel or removal of the right to appeal;
  • Court lacked jurisdiction on the matter or lack of proper due process jurisdiction on the matter.