A defendant may seek to withdraw a guilty plea in Pennsylvania–but it's getting harder to have the motion granted. The Pennsylvania appeals court recently refused to void the prison sentence of an Erie man who sought to withdraw his no-contest plea to an indecent assault charge.
In this case, a female Lyft driver accused Terah Odoi of groping her as she transported him to his destination. Odoi initially entered a no-contest plea agreement with prosecutors but requested to withdraw the plea at his sentencing hearing. He claimed that he was intoxicated at the time of the incident and did not remember molesting the woman. Odoi also claimed that because he was illiterate, he did not understand the paperwork when he signed it.
The county court denied Odoi's withdrawal request. On appeal, the state Superior Court held that the county court judge acted correctly, stating that Odoi's bare belief in his innocence did not demonstrate his innocence and was insufficient to withdraw the plea.
When do courts allow you to withdraw a guilty plea in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania Code Rule 591 states that upon the motion of the defendant, the court has the discretion to allow the defendant to withdraw a guilty or no contest plea and substitute a not-guilty plea “at any time before the imposition of sentence.” The defendant generally should submit a written request for withdrawal, but the rule does not preclude a defendant from making an oral motion at the sentencing hearing.
Once the defendant has moved for withdrawal, the prosecution has 10 days to respond. If the defendant has made an oral motion to withdraw, the court will make an on-the-record assessment to determine whether there is a “fair and just reason” to permit the withdrawal of the plea. If the court finds a fair reason for withdrawal, it will then give the prosecutor 10 days to respond to the motion. However, if the court decides that there is no fair and just reason, it will deny the motion.
Until recently, Pennsylvania courts construed Rule 591 liberally in favor of the defendant. In Commonwealth v. Kirsch, 930 A.2d 1282 (Pa. Super. 2007), the court held that a defendant should be permitted to withdraw his plea for “any fair and just reason” as long as the withdrawal didn't substantially prejudice the prosecution. Subsequently, the courts even found that a bare assertion of innocence was a fair and just reason for withdrawal.
However, more recent court decisions, such as in the case of Odoi, indicate a trend that defendants might be required to demonstrate that the claim of innocence is plausible for a court to grant the motion to withdraw the plea.
Can a guilty plea ever be withdrawn after sentencing in Pennsylvania?
In limited circumstances, a defendant may seek a withdrawal of a guilty plea after sentencing. The court is unlikely to grant such a request, however, unless a grave injustice has occurred. For example, the court might grant such a request if the plea was coerced, the defendant was denied effective assistance of counsel, or did not receive the concessions agreed upon in the plea deal.
Are you seeking to withdraw a guilty plea?
If you are having second thoughts about pleading guilty or no contest, you should speak with a skilled criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced, dedicated lawyer can help you fight for your right to withdraw the plea and present your motion for withdrawal in the most favorable light. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the team at Lento Law Firm have the experience and skill required to help you withdraw your plea. Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation. Attorney Lento is ready to fight on your behalf – let him.