DC Gun Laws Part II: Withdrawing a Guilty Plea

u-s-supreme-court-1-1221080The first part of this three part series discussed the current state of the District of Columbia’s gun laws. The second part will discuss the process involved in attempting to withdraw a guilty plea in DC Superior Court and the pros and cons of attempting to get your plea withdrawn.

Ordinarily, moving to withdraw a guilty plea is a very difficult process. Many defense attorneys refer to the process for withdrawing a guilty plea as “pulling teeth.” However, given the negative consequences associated with having a criminal conviction on your record, and the current successful challenges to the District’s gun laws, it may be worth it to go through the process.

The law disfavors a defendant withdrawing a guilty plea. Imagine every time someone plead guilty and did not like the sentence then cases would never have finality. The rule that governs the withdrawal of a guilty plea is D.C. Criminal Rule 11 (e), which states:

A motion to withdraw a plea of guilty or of nolo contendere may be made only before sentence is imposed or imposition of sentence is suspended; but to correct manifest injustice, the Court after sentence may set aside the judgment of conviction and permit the defendant to withdraw the plea.

The plain text of the rule indicates that it is easier to withdraw a guilty plea before an individual is sentenced. Once a person is sentenced, the only way to withdraw a guilty plea is to “correct manifest injustice.” The first issue that a trial judge would have to resolve on letting someone withdraw a guilty plea is whether the person is entitled to a hearing. Many judges will look for a way to just deny the motion without holding a hearing. However, the law only permits a judge to summarily deny a motion to withdraw guilty plea under the following circumstances:

1. If the motion is palpably incredible;
2. If the motion, even if true, would not entitle the person to relief; or
3. If the motion is so vague it fails to state any legal basis for action by the court.

Typically, the government will aggressively oppose such motions and argue to the judge that the court should not even hold a hearing. However, given the fact that a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled that its “Carrying a Pistol” statute was unconstitutional, it would be difficult for the Court to find that such a motion fit into any of the three requirements above. For example, there is nothing “palpably incredible” about an individual wanting to get a conviction off his or her record when they plead guilty to a crime that was later declared unconstitutional.

Having said all that, there are some cons for trying to withdraw a plea. First, it will cost time and money and put you back into the court system. Second, if successful, the government could potentially reinstate any charges that were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. However, they could not and would not likely reinstate the felony “carrying a pistol” felony charge as it has been declared unconstitutional.

Of course, the pros in many circumstances may outweigh the cons. If Carrying a Pistol in DC is the only conviction on one’s record (or only felony conviction), there are tremendous benefits for not having a felony conviction on one’s record. Individuals with felony convictions often can’t vote and have difficulty finding jobs and passing background checks, among other consequences.

The bottom line is if you were convicted of a DC gun charge prior to July 2014 (and in some cases after) through a guilty plea, you should talk to an experienced DC gun lawyer. At Scrofano Law PC, we have successfully defended folks charged with gun offenses and have experience litigating motions to withdraw guilty pleas, including a DC DUI case litigated successfully at the DC Court of Appeals. Contact us today for a consultation.