Can a Defendant Withdraw a Guilty Plea in Arizona?

withdraw a guilty plea - cartoon of judge and gavel

Can a Defendant Withdraw a Guilty Plea in Arizona?

A criminal trial usually goes one of two ways: the defense and the prosecution come to a plea agreement, or the trial resumes and ends in a guilty or not-guilty ruling. Plea agreements, or plea bargains, are prevalent in Arizona because they avoid the stresses of a criminal trial and often guarantee a lighter sentence. 

Of course, in order to come to a plea agreement, the defendant must plead guilty to the crime. A plea agreement, however, does not necessarily indicate guilt. There are various reasons a defendant might negotiate a plea deal. Perhaps the defendant has a criminal record that does not bode well for a not-guilty ruling; the evidence appears to be stacked against the defendant; or the defendant had poor or no legal counsel at the time of the arraignment hearing. 

At times a defendant may wish to withdraw a guilty plea. They may believe they got a bad deal, new evidence may have come to light, or the judge may have rejected their plea bargain. 

Let’s look at what the law has to say about withdrawing a guilty plea before and after sentencing. 

Pre-Sentence Withdrawal  

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(e), a defendant may choose to withdraw their guilty plea prior to sentencing only if they can present a “fair or just” reasoning. The standard for determining the validity of a plea withdrawal is fourfold: 

    1. Has the defendant established a fair and just reason for withdrawing their plea; 
    2. Has the defendant asserted a factual or legal basis for their innocence; 
    3. Was the length of time between the guilty plea and the motion to withdraw reasonable; and
    4. Would the government be showing prejudice if they permitted the defendant to withdraw their plea? 

If this fourfold standard is met, the judge will often permit a defendant to withdraw their plea. 

Common Reasons to Withdraw before Sentencing: 

    • The defendant did not fully understand the effect of pleading guilty 
    • The lawyer entered a guilty plea without the client’s consent
    • The defense counsel failed to advise the defendant of important consequences of the plea deal
    • The defendant has a viable chance at trial
    • The defendant was denied a constitutional right 
    • The judge participated too much in plea negotiations
    • A law has changed that foundationally impacts the outcome of a trial

Post-Sentence Withdrawal 

Withdrawing a guilty plea after the judge has sentenced a defendant is extremely difficult. A judge will only entertain the idea of a plea withdrawal if they believe significant injustice would result from the conviction. This most commonly occurs when new evidence surfaces of a defendant’s innocence. If the judge has already set a sentence based upon a plea deal, the best route to take is often to appeal the ruling. 

Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney

At Coolidge Law Firm in Chandler, AZ, making sure you receive a fair and just trial is of utmost importance to us. We will always seek to get charges reduced or to have a case dismissed whenever possible. There are many ways to accomplish this within Arizona Law. If you’re looking for an experienced criminal defense attorney in Arizona, call Todd Coolidge today and receive your free case review. 


Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay (7/31/2019)