Can You Withdraw a Guilty Plea in a Las Vegas Criminal Case?

In a Las Vegas criminal case, a defendant may regret entering a guilty plea for many different reasons. A specific Nevada law allows a defendant to make a motion to withdraw a plea of guilty, not guilty but mentally ill, or nolo contendere. The statute authorizes the court to set aside a conviction in response to a motion to withdraw, but judges are generally reluctant to set aside a plea and exercise their authority only in limited circumstances.

Motion to Withdraw a Guilty Plea

The applicable statute is found at NRS 176.165, which addresses withdrawal of a plea of guilty, guilty but mentally ill, or nolo contendere. The law authorizes a defendant to file a motion to withdraw a plea only before imposition or suspension of the sentence and provides that a judge may set aside a conviction and permit a defendant to withdraw a plea “to correct manifest injustice.”

Since the motion must be made before sentencing, the length of time available to file a motion to withdraw varies significantly, depending on the criminal charges. In relatively minor cases, sentencing may occur immediately after the plea is entered, which does not allow time for filing a motion to withdraw. For more serious charges, there may be a longer period of time between entry of the plea and sentencing, which provides the defendant with time to file the motion permitted by the statute.

To evaluate a motion to withdraw, the court conducts a hearing on the motion, with both the defendant and prosecutor given the opportunity to present evidence and make arguments. Then the judge carefully evaluates the request, weighing all relevant considerations before deciding whether to grant the request. 

If the court grants a motion to withdraw a plea, the case effectively starts over, with the defendant given the opportunity to enter a different plea. If the judge denies the motion to withdraw, the defendant is bound to the terms of the original plea and plea deal.

A motion to withdraw is a legal document that must be carefully prepared and explain the reasons why the judge should set aside the plea. A well prepared motion significantly improves the chances of succeeding with a plea withdrawal request. If you entered a plea in a criminal case, and you want to request withdrawal, it’s essential to talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney before you proceed. Having legal representation can make a difference in the outcome of the request.

Reasons For Requesting Withdrawal of a Plea

When a defendant files a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, nolo contendere (no-contest) plea, or plea of guilty but mentally ill, the judge is usually reluctant to grant the request unless the defendant demonstrates a valid reason for withdrawal. In deciding whether to grant the request, the judge takes into account all relevant factors, including those favorable to the defendant and those that may weigh against allowing withdrawal, such as prejudice to the prosecution or unnecessary delay in filing the motion on the defendant’s part.

The outcome of a motion to withdraw depends on the specific facts in a case. Nevada laws and court decisions establish specific reasons that may provide a basis for granting a motion to withdraw. They include:

  • Ineffective or incompetent defense counsel relating to entry of the plea
  • A plea not voluntarily made by the defendant, due to mental incompetence, inability to consent, coercion, or another reason
  • Existence of issues relating to the defendant’s constitutional rights
  • Potential failure to make exonerating evidence available or fully investigate
  • Defendant’s lack of awareness that probation may not be available
  • Ineffective assistance of a translator for a non-English speaking defendant

Regardless of the reason for requesting withdrawal, the motion and evidence presented by the defendant in the hearing must demonstrate the basis for withdrawal. Simply making the claim or stating the conclusion is insufficient. Courts apply specific standards in assessing individual reasons for withdrawal of a plea and analyze the defendant’s evidence accordingly.

The process for plea withdrawal and the analysis the court conducts in ruling on the motion make it imperative for a defendant to have legal representation and assistance in determining whether to file the motion and in formulating a strategy and demonstrating the reason(s) for withdrawal of the plea. Filing a motion to withdraw without a proper basis and failing to demonstrate a compelling reason is unlikely to result in a favorable ruling from the judge.

Other Relief After a Guilty Plea

As explained above, a motion to withdraw cannot be made after the court sentences a defendant. However, other types of relief may be available under Nevada law in that situation. Getting advice from a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney is the best way to evaluate options for proceeding at any stage of a criminal case, including after sentencing.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney

If you need assistance concerning withdrawal of a guilty plea, or any other issue relating to a state or federal criminal charge in Las Vegas, Henderson, or elsewhere in Clark County, criminal defense attorney Joseph Gersten is here to help. At The Gersten Law Firm, there is no charge for your initial consultation and case evaluation. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.