Reversal of a Guilty Plea
Reversing a guilty plea is a legal issue that has been cast into the public spotlight recently, as a result of Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s seeking to reverse his guilty plea of disorderly conduct. As the Craig case shows (he was unsuccessful), the principle of finality, as a general rule, prevents people who have pled guilty to a crime by signing plea papers from taking that plea back. If reversal of a final judgment were easy, then everyone would try it.
However, several arguments can be made for reversing a guilty plea. Laws exist in a number of states permitting reversal, the reason being to make sure that the defendant is not wrongly convicted and is not denied the chance to have a jury trial.
Minnesota law, for example, allows a plea “withdrawal” upon “a timely motion” and proof of a “manifest injustice.” Even after a final judgment has been entered and a sentence imposed, the defendant is still allowed to move to reverse without appealing.
Defendants next need to prove injustice. They can argue that they were not of “sound mind” or were otherwise incapacitated when they signed the plea bargain. They can claim they did not understand (“were not intelligent of”) all of the consequences of signing the plea. Defendants may claim the arrest procedures were improper, such as officers’ not informing defendant of her rights. They can say that the evidence does not point to the elements of the pled-to crime.
Defendants can argue that they were under duress, undue influence, or even panic when they agreed to sign the plea bargain. For example, police may threaten to make allegations of past crimes public or may threaten to charge the defendant with more heinous crimes. Consequences of pleading not guilty may be severe, such as never seeing children again.
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Last Modified: 05-26-2009 12:16 PM PDT
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