Requirements to Withdraw a Plea
When a defendant enters into a plea negotiation with the State he has to waive all of his
pretrial rights such as his right to remain silent, his right to the presumption of innocence, his right to cross examine witnesses, his right to face his accusers, and his right to a jury trial. The accused will stand before a judge to enter his plea and in so doing the judge will ask him if he is entering his plea knowingly and voluntarily and if he his waiving his rights of his own volition. This is important because if the defendant is under the influence of medication or a controlled substance or suffers from a cognitive disability or undue influence the court cannot accept the plea. Once a plea is entered it is nearly impossible to withdraw the plea, but there is an exception.
The Exception to the Rule
A plea of guilty or no contest may be withdrawn only upon leave of the court and a showing that it was not knowingly and voluntarily made. Utah Code Ann. § 77-13-6(2)(a). A plea is knowing and voluntary ‚only if the defendant is fully aware of the direct consequences’ of his plea. State v. Trotter, 2014 UT 17, ¶ 9. A direct consequence is one that will have a definite, immediate and largely automatic effect on the range of the defendant’s punishment such as lack of eligibility for parole. Id. Both defense counsel and the district court have a responsibility to ensure a defendant is aware of the direct consequences of his or her plea. Id.
In the recent case of State v. Harvey, the defendant argued that he should be allowed to withdraw his plea because he did not understand exactly what his criminal history included and how his criminal history would impact how he would be sentenced and so his plea was not knowing and voluntary because he was not fully aware of its consequences. The court, however, disagreed because the defendant had been advised of the potential for how he could be sentenced and so his own misunderstanding of his criminal history was irrelevant. His plea, therefore, could not be considered unknowing or involuntary.