Being arrested for drunk driving does not mean that you will be convicted of DUI charges. However, many people do not believe they can fight DUI charges in California. Therefore, they plead guilty to DUI before talking to an experienced California DUI defense lawyer.
Only after pleading guilty to driving under the influence do they realize they have a valid defense to the charges or the plea agreement’s terms are not fair given the facts of their case. Therefore, a judge may allow a defendant to withdraw their DUI guilty plea for good cause in some situations.
Filing a Motion to Withdraw a DUI Plea in California
According to California Penal Code §1018, a defendant in a criminal case has the right to withdraw their guilty plea or no contest plea. The law applies to both misdemeanor and felony charges.
You must file a motion with the court asking the judge to allow you to withdraw your plea before you are sentenced or within six months of a probationary sentence. If a judge grants the motion, you can enter a plea of not guilty and proceed with a defense of the DUI charges.
Generally, defendants file a motion to withdraw a DUI plea when they realize that pleading guilty to drunk driving charges is not in their best interest. For example, they may have pleaded guilty because of a lack of competent legal representation or because they realize that the plea agreement’s terms will be more severe than anticipated.
Showing Good Cause for Granting a Motion to Withdraw DUI Plea in California
The court must find good cause for granting your motion to withdraw a DUI plea. The law does not allow defendants to change their minds merely because they regret pleading guilty to a crime. Good cause for changing your plea in a DUI case may arise because of:
The defendant has the burden of proving good cause by clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is not beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is evidence that demonstrates that it is highly probable the defendant’s arguments are true. In other words, it is substantially more likely the defendant would have entered a different plea had they known all of the facts before entering a guilty or no contest plea.
Some of the circumstances that could prove good cause for a motion to withdraw DUI plea include:
Not Understanding the Consequences of Pleading Guilty
If you were not aware of a significant consequence of your guilty plea, the judge might find good cause exists for allowing you to change your DUI plea. For example, good cause could exist when you were unaware that you would lose your job or a professional license if you pled guilty to drunk driving charges.
Another situation for good cause might be you did not understand there were mandatory jail sentences associated with the DUI charges, or pleading guilty or no contest could result in being deported from the country.
Prejudiced Because of a Language Barrier
You need to understand the court’s instructions regarding a plea. If you use an interpreter during the hearing to enter a plea of guilty or no contest, there could be good cause to grant a motion to withdraw a DUI plea. However, you must generally show that the interpreter was not solely interpreting for you when you entered the plea.
Not Being Represented by a Lawyer When Entering a Plea
Good cause may exist to withdraw a DUI plea if you did not have an attorney representing you during the hearing AND the judge did not explain that you had the right to counsel. Proving good cause rests with the judge’s instructions during the hearing. Representing yourself is not good cause for withdrawing a plea IF the judge told you that you had the right to have an attorney represent you.
Not Having Competent Legal Representation
You have the right to legal representation. You also have the right to competent legal representation. If your lawyer was ineffective, the court might find good cause to allow you to change your plea in a DUI case.
Ineffective legal counsel might include:
- Failure to file appropriate motions with the court
- Failing to investigate the circumstances of the DUI stop and DUI arrest
- Failing to present evidence of mitigating circumstances to lower the sentence
- Failure to challenge chemical tests when evidence is available for an effective challenge
- Failing to present available defenses
- Failure to explain the charges and potential consequences of a DUI conviction
Proving your attorney failed to provide services that met the reasonable standard of legal representation can be challenging. However, it is possible when a lawyer fails to advise the client of their rights or fails to provide an adequate defense to the charges.
Coercion or Harassment to Enter a Plea
Defendants must freely enter a plea of guilty or no contest. However, if there are any signs that the defendant was coerced, threatened, or forced to enter a guilty or no contest plea, the court generally grants the motion to withdraw the DUI plea. The coercion may come from law enforcement officers, the prosecutor, or any other party.
What Happens if the Court Allows Me to Withdraw My DUI Plea?
If you win your motion to withdraw the DUI plea, you can enter a not guilty plea. Your not guilty plea nullifies any plea agreement you might have had in your DUI case. Then, you and your California DUI defense attorney can negotiate a new plea agreement or proceed to trial.
You may have one or more DUI defenses that could result in an acquittal, dismissal of charges, or more favorable plea agreement terms, depending on the facts of your case. Potential DUI defenses include, but are not limited to:
- Challenging the results of chemical blood alcohol tests because the blood fermented, the samples were contaminated, or errors were made during the collection or testing
- Your ability to operate a motor vehicle was not impaired by alcohol at the time of your arrest
- A health condition caused a false BAC level, including diabetes, acid reflux, and GERD
- Rising blood alcohol levels after your DUI arrest caused the high BAC test results
- The arresting officer did not have probable cause for the DUI arrest
- You were stopped at an illegal DU checkpoint, or the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to pull you over
- A low-carb diet or ketosis caused false BAC results
- You have a medical condition that caused you to appear intoxicated, such as a brain condition, diabetes, or epilepsy
- The arresting officer relied on non-standardized field sobriety tests for probable cause or failed to provide adequate instructions for the standardized field sobriety tests
- Environmental factors caused you to fail the field sobriety tests
A strong defense can result in reasonable doubt for a jury. Additionally, raising one or more potential defenses could encourage a prosecutor to agree to reduce the DUI charges attempted DUI or reckless driving to avoid jail time now and a priorable offense in the future.
What Happens if the Judge Denies My Motion to Withdraw DUI Plea?
If the judge denies your motions to change your plea in a DUI case, your case proceeds to sentencing. The judge enters a sentence based on the facts of your DUI case. However, you have options.
You could appeal the judge’s decision to deny the motion to allow you to withdraw your DUI plea. However, you must show that the judge made a legal error or abused their discretion to win an appeal.
If you cannot avoid a DUI sentence, you might want to consider expungement. It is possible to have a DUI expunged if you meet the following requirements:
- Your case was heard in state court
- You were not sentenced to serve time in state prison
- It has been one year since your conviction if you were not ordered to serve probation
- You completed probation without any violations
- You completed all terms of your sentence, including DUI school, alcohol treatment programs, community service, paying restitution, payment of fines, etc.
- You are not currently on probation, in jail for another offense, or charged with another criminal offense
Many DUI convictions in California meet the requirements for expungement. However, it is important to note that a DUI expungement does not wipe your record clean for future DUI convictions. If you are convicted of drunk driving within ten years of having a DUI expunged, you face enhanced penalties even though the court expunged the prior DUI conviction.
How Can You Avoid the Necessity of a Motion to Withdraw DUI Plea?
Talk with an experienced California DUI defense lawyer before entering a guilty plea or no contest plea. You have the right to legal counsel when charged with a crime. Exercise that right before you agree to a plea deal.
The prosecution does not explain your legal rights nor tell you when the case against you is weak. You need a DUI lawyer to investigate the charges against you to determine whether a plea agreement is in your best interest. Dealing with a charge of driving under the influence without a lawyer could result in more jail time, higher fines, and additional penalties.