Our law firm represents individuals in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. As I have written on previous occasions, while the 2 state share borders and residents travel between them daily, their criminal courts operate differently. You may recall that in Pennsylvania a defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing whereas in New Jersey there is an indictment system. In addition to this difference, New Jersey maintains a number of mandatory minimum gun and firearm crimes (Graves Act), whereas Pennsylvania only has a few mandatory minimum crimes which relate to the illegal transfer of firearms rather than the unlawful possession of them.
There are situations where we have represented an individual and the evidence is simply too overwhelming to proceed to trial. In these cases, we often attempt to negotiate a favorable guilty plea or a plead open before the sentencing judge. With an open plea, a criminal lawyer will argue for a favorable sentence based on a lack of criminal history or some other mitigation which the criminal court would find persuasive.
What does a guilty plea actually involve?
Prior to entering into a guilty plea it is important that the client and their family understand all of the consequences associated with it. Prior to accepting the plea, the sentencing judge will go through a process to ensure that the accused is aware of what is happening; this is known as a colloquy. During this process the judge will ask the defendant a number of questions relating to the voluntariness and/or lack of coercion surrounding the decision to plead guilty. This is a very extensive process and this is the major reason why it is often difficult to withdraw a guilty plea in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. With that said, however, it isn’t impossible. It is very important that your criminal defense lawyer review this process with you and explain the probability of success based on certain factors.
Withdrawing a guilty plea in New Jersey
In New Jersey, a motion to withdraw a guilty plea is based on a number of factors laid out in the case of State v. Slater. This is one of the reasons why a motion to withdraw a guilty plea in New Jersey is also known as a “Slater motion”. Under the Slater decision, there is a 4 factor test on which a court must make its decision. The test is the same regardless of whether the motion is made before or after sentencing.
If the motion to withdraw the plea is made before sentencing then the court must consider these 4 factors under the “interest of justice standard.” If the motion is made after sentencing the court must consider these 4 factors under the higher standard, also known as the “Manifest Injustice” Standard. The burden of this motion is on the defendant and he or she must establish more than just a change of mind.
Here are the 4 factors:
- Whether the defendant has asserted a colorable claim of innocence
- The nature and strength of the defendant’s reason for withdrawal
- The existence of a plea bargain
- Whether the withdrawal will result in an unfair prejudice to the state or an unfair advantage to the accused
It is important to keep in mind that no factor is mandatory and if one is missing it does not mean that the motion to withdraw the plea will automatically fail. The court should balance the factors to determine whether the defendant has demonstrated a manifest injustice if the motion is filed after sentencing or an interests of justice claim if filed before sentencing. If either is established then the court should grant the claim.
What about Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania a claim of innocence used to be enough to withdraw a guilty plea. After the case of Commonwealth v. Carrasquillo, however, the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant who chooses to withdraw his guilty plea must establish more than just innocence but rather “plausibly demonstrate a fair and just reason for the withdrawal of the plea”.
If you have pled guilty in Pennsylvania or New Jersey and are reconsidering that decision, contact our office for more information.