Withdrawing a Guilty Plea in Utah

Often, very emotional people come into our office, and say something like this: “I pled guilty to a crime a couple weeks ago, but I have since changed my mind! Can you help me? I think I made a horrible mistake!”

At Greg Smith and Associates, we are well trained in how to withdraw a guilty plea for you or your loved one. Recently, in State v. Alexander (May 2012), the Utah Supreme said this:

“A plea is not knowing and voluntary when the record demonstrates that ‘the accused does not understand the nature of the constitutional protections that he is waiving, or [when] he has such an incomplete understanding of the charge that his plea cannot stand as an intelligent admission of guilt.’ Our clients often tell us that their first lawyer seemed a bit rushed, and did not fully explain things to them. The written plea agreement the Defendant signed when he pled guilty, and the audio file that we can get from the court usually provide us with a lot of useful information.

The Supreme Court went on to say that’s why Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 was established. They said, “Rule 11 is a “prophylactic measure” that “[was] designed to protect an individual’s rights when entering a guilty plea by ensuring that the defendant receives full notice of the charges, the elements, how the defendant’s conduct amounts to a crime, the consequences of the plea, etc.”1

According to the Court, the Defendant must know the following things: that at trial he would be presumed innocent, that he would not have to testify against himself, that he would have a speedy trial, that he could cross-examine the witnesses, that he could have witnesses whose testimony could help him forced to come to trial to testify on his behalf, etc. The Defendant must understand that nature of the offense that he is pleading guilty to, and must also know that the State would have to prove ALL of those elements by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

(4)(B) there is a factual basis for the plea….[, which] is sufficient if it establishes that the charged crime was actually committed by the defendant or, if the defendant refuses or is otherwise unable to admit culpability, that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to establish a substantial risk of conviction.

The Court also said that “[u]nder the Plea Withdrawal Statute, a plea may be withdrawn “only upon [permission] of the court and a showing that [the plea] was not knowingly and voluntarily made.

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