State v. Collins: Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

Withdrawing a Guilty Plea in Utah

In Utah the law allows for withdrawing a guilty plea before sentencing but only in very defined circumstances. Recently in State v. Collins, the Utah Court of Appeals addressed the issue of a defendant’s desire to withdraw his guilty plea, but the court denied him a withdrawal in that case.

In Collins, the defendant was picked up on a warrant, taken to jail, and a search revealed heroin on his person.  He decided to enter into a plea agreement of one count of possession of a controlled substance, a second degree felony. At the court where he entered his plea, the defendant’s attorney represented to the court that she had gone over the plea agreement with her client and that she believed he was entering into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily. The plea agreement itself is a written statement that the defendant signs which cites the defendant’s rights and that he is waiving those rights. In addition to entering the plea agreement the court asked the defendant various questions including under Rule 11 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure:

  • Whether he could read, write, and understand the English language;
  • Whether he was under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medications;
  • Whether he was thinking clearly;
  • Whether he suffers any illness that impaired his ability to think clearly;
  • Whether he read and understood everything in the plea statement;
  • Whether according to the defendant the plea affidavit was true and correct;
  • Whether the defendant understood all of the constitutional rights he was waiving as set forth in the plea statement
  • Whether he understood the maximum penalties associated with the second degree felony conviction of possession of a controlled substance.

The court also explained to the defendant that although there was a sentence recommendation, the court was not bound by that recommendation. After entering his plea, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. At a hearing the defendant said he was promised by his attorney that as soon as he entered his plea he would be released on probation. The district court denied his motion to withdraw his plea and he appealed, but only on the issue that his plea was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary, but on that issue he lost as well.

The court noted that “To show that a plea was not knowing and voluntary, a defendant must show either that he did not in fact understand the nature of the constitutional protections that he was waiving by pleading guilty, or that he had such an incomplete understanding of the charges that his plea cannot stand as an intelligent admission of guilt.” The court found that the defendant did not satisfy his burden.

Posted in Pleas

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