Can I Withdraw a Guilty Plea in North Carolina?

Entering a guilty plea or a plea of no contest is done on the record. Generally, the terms of the plea agreement, called terms of the plea, are reduced to writing in a document called the plea transcript. Before the entry of judgment, the superior court judge overseeing your case will usually review the terms and acknowledgments within the plea transcript with the defendant. The judge must confirm that the defendant understands their legal rights regarding taking a case to trial versus accepting a plea agreement. The judge must also ensure that the accused voluntarily enters the plea of their own free will.

Court proceedings in Superior Court are on the record. A court reporter must be present to record and reduce everything set in court in a transcript. When there are disputes about what is said or done in court, the transcript written by the court reporter will shed light on what happened. There should always be an impartial and complete record of the proceedings. These principles apply almost exclusively to Superior Court proceedings. In North Carolina, District Courts are not considered courts of record. there are some exceptions to this general rule, such as for juvenile court matters and when explicitly stated in the North Carolina criminal code.

In addition to warnings defendants receive in a written plea transcript, there may also be terms and conditions of the plea that specifically set forth what the defendant and prosecutor have agreed upon. Many judges use the plea transcript and read it word for word. They read the admonitions, warnings, and effects of the defendant entering a guilty plea or a plea of no contest to criminal charges in the superior court. Entering a guilty plea involves waving important constitutional rights, and the process of a judge reading the defendant's rights and ensuring the defendant understands that they are giving up those rights by entering a plea bargain can take some time.

Withdrawing a Guilty Plea is Possible in Limited Circumstances

In certain limited circumstances, it may be possible to set aside a plea of no contest or a guilty plea. It is not uncommon for defendants to have second thoughts about entering a plea deal. They may have a form of buyer's remorse after they take some time to think about the full consequences of what it means to plead guilty and have a conviction on their criminal record.

When the defendant voluntarily, freely, and without corrosion or threat enters a guilty plea, withdrawing the plea is extremely difficult, if not impossible. However, there are limited circumstances in which the court is mandated under North Carolina laws to set aside an entry of a guilty plea. For example, if the Superior Court does not comply with the terms and conditions of the plea agreement when entering the judgment, the defendant has a right to seek to withdraw their entry of a guilty plea at the trial court level.

Additionally, the defendant may have the right to an appeal as a matter of right to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Suppose a defendant files a motion to withdraw a plea of guilty or a plea of no contest to criminal charges in North Carolina. In that case, the defendant is entitled to an appeal as a matter of right if they made the plea in a superior court. The process for please entered in District Court is different.

The defendant may appeal a guilty plea made in District Court to Superior Court when appropriate, but not immediately to the court of appeals. If the court rejects the plea agreement conditions or indicates a sentence other than what was agreed upon, the defendant has a right to be advised of the judge's decision in advance. The court is responsible for telling the defendant about the conditions in the plea agreement that will not be accepted and that the defendant has the right to withdraw the plea.

Discuss Your Case With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Charlotte

If you have been accused of a crime in North Carolina or you suspect that you are being investigated by law enforcement, it is crucial that you exercise your right to legal counsel and speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you have already accepted a plea bargain and you have questions about whether you can withdraw it, the experienced attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, are here to help. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about how we can advocate for your rights.