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Can You Withdraw a Guilty Plea to a Criminal Charge in Georgia?


Most criminal prosecutions in Georgia result in some form of plea bargain. Typically, the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for some consideration from the prosecution, such as a lesser charge or a joint sentencing recommendation. In other cases, a defendant may simply decide they wish to accept responsibility and enter a guilty plea without any conditions or negotiated agreement, leaving any sentencing up to the discretion of the trial judge.

When You Want to Withdraw a Plea Matters

An arraignment is the formal court appearance where criminal charges are read to the defendant. The defendant is then asked to enter a plea. Under Georgia law, if the defendant enters a plea of “guilty,” it is immediately recorded by the clerk of the court and the judge can proceed to pronounce judgment. At any point before the judge orally pronounces judgment, however, the defendant is free to withdraw their guilty plea and enter a plea of “not guilty” instead.

Even after the court pronounces judgment, the judge has the discretion to allow the defendant to withdraw their guilty plea. But it is a matter of discretion. The judge does not have to accept a plea withdrawal after announcing judgment orally in court. And Georgia appellate courts will generally not second-guess a trial judge’s decision to refuse a plea withdrawal at this stage.

One exception to this general rule involves negotiated pleas. Let’s say the prosecution and the defendant agree to a plea bargain with a sentencing recommendation. The sentencing recommendation is just that–a recommendation. It is still up to the judge to impose the final sentence. While judges will usually approve the negotiated sentencing recommendation, if the court decides to impose a different sentence, the defendant has the right to withdraw their guilty plea at that point and proceed to trial.

But when a defendant enters an “open” or non-negotiated plea, their options for withdrawing a guilty plea are again quite limited. Consider this recent decision from the Georgia Supreme Court, Carter v. State. In this case, a defendant who acted without the assistance of an attorney entered a non-negotiated guilty plea to several criminal charges arising from an armed robbery that led to someone’s death. The trial court imposed a life sentence on the defendant.

Five years later, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The Supreme Court explained that was not possible. Georgia law requires a defendant to withdraw a plea during the same term of the court as when the plea was initially entered. In this case, the defendant pleaded guilty during a court term that ended back in 2016. So even if the court now wanted to allow a withdrawal, it could not.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

Even if you are thinking about pleading guilty to a criminal charge, it is still in your best interest to seek advice and representation from a qualified Georgia criminal defense attorney. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.


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