After appearing in Municipal Court and pleading guilty to an offense, many people are uncomfortable with the outcome and contact the Law Office of Eric B. Morrell to ask about how to take their plea back.  This process is known as the withdrawal of a guilty plea.  In order to withdraw a plea, you must file a motion to vacate the plea and return your case to the trial calendar.  Under Rule 3:21-1 of the New Jersey Rules of Court and Rule 7:6-2(b) of the Municipal Court Rules, a motion to withdraw a guilty plea shall be made before sentencing, but the court may permit it to be made thereafter to correct a manifest injustice.  When taking back a plea, a key element is the amount of time that has passed since the entering of the plea to the filing of the motion.  As such, motions to vacate must be made immediately after the entering of a plea.

In evaluating whether a manifest injustice occurred sufficient to withdraw a plea, the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Slater, 198 N.J. 145 (2009), outlined four factors that trial courts should evaluate and balance when deciding such a motion. 

  1. Whether the Defendant has asserted a colorable claim of innocence
  2. The nature and strength of defendant’s reasons for withdrawal
  3. The existence of a plea bargain
  4. Whether withdrawal would result in unfair prejudice to the State or an unfair advantage to the accused.

In evaluating the above factors, some of the facts courts generally look to are, whether the defendant has a claim to innocence beyond a mere bald assertion, the reason(s) why the accused wants to take the plea back, whether the accused understood the substance of the charge and/or the ramifications of the charge, the complexity of the case, and the length of time the State will need to prepare to conduct a trial in the case, amongst other facts.

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For instance, if when you enter into a plea, you were misinformed about a material element of the plea negotiation, or mistaken or unaware of the sentence to the charge you pled to, or did not understand the direct consequences of entering into the plea, the plea you entered into may be vacated. 

As an example, if you entered into a plea and were not informed by the prosecutor or the court that your sentence would include jail time and/or community service, then your plea may be vacated and put back on the trial calendar.  As this type of application is time sensitive, please contact our office immediately to begin preparing a motion to vacate. 

Our office is fully familiar with this procedure, as we have assisted numerous clients in the withdrawal of their guilty pleas.  If you have gone to municipal court and you pleaded guilty to a charge you were not comfortable with, please feel free to call our office to discuss your options. 

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