Many criminal cases are resolved through a plea bargain in North Carolina. However, it is not uncommon for a defendant to enter into a plea agreement and plead guilty but then change their mind about their plea.

If you are in this situation, you may be able to withdraw your guilty plea. You will need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to advise you on whether this is a good option in your criminal case and whether it is possible to withdraw your plea.

What Are the Steps in a Plea Agreement?

It is important to understand the steps in entering a plea bargain because the step you are on can affect your ability to withdraw your plea. Under North Carolina law, the Guilty Pleas on a Computer Screen With a Gavel and Scales of Justiceprosecutor and defendant are allowed to enter into a plea agreement. In most cases, the accused is given a benefit, such as a reduced charge or a less severe sentence, in exchange for their plea.

Deciding whether to enter a guilty plea is one of the most important decisions you will make in your criminal case. There are many factors you need to weigh before you make this decision. It is best to have a lawyer discuss all your options with you and negotiate your agreement with the prosecutor to achieve the best outcome in your case. The steps involved in entering into a plea bargain include:

  • Negotiating the plea agreement with the prosecutor
  • Preparing a written statement of what you are pleading guilty to
  • Reading your plea in court
  • Accepting your plea agreement in your criminal case
  • Sentencing by the judge

Can You Withdraw Your Guilty Plea Before the Judge Approves it?

Yes, you have the right to withdraw your guilty plea for any reason before the judge accepts it. This means that you can change your mind while a plea agreement is being negotiated for you, the written statement is being prepared, and when your plea is being read.

Your Right to Withdraw Your Guilty Plea After the Court Accepts it

It can be harder to take back a guilty plea after the judge accepts it. Here is what you need to show if you change your mind before or after sentencing.


In many cases, there will be another hearing to sentence you after you plead guilty. You may be able to withdraw your plea before you are sentenced if you can show a fair and just reason for your decision. The judge would consider many factors in deciding whether to grant your request, such as your reasons, the length of time between your plea and your request to withdraw it, and whether you had an attorney at the time of your guilty plea.


It is much harder to withdraw a guilty plea after sentencing. You would need to show that it would be manifestly unjust to enter a guilty plea given the circumstances of your case. This is a much harder standard of proof than showing a fair and just reason to withdraw your plea.

Common Reasons the Judge Could Agree to Withdraw Your Plea

There are many reasons why a judge may agree to allow you to withdraw your guilty plea. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • You had the ineffective assistance of a lawyer. This is probably the most common reason a judge would grant your request to withdraw your plea.
  • You were not represented by an attorney when you pled guilty.
  • You were not mentally competent to enter your plea.
  • Your plea was entered without your consent.
  • The strength of your defenses to the charges you face has risen.
  • You were manipulated or threatened in order to get you to plead guilty.
  • Your constitutional rights were violated, such as the police continued to question you after you exercised your right to remain silent or you were deprived of your right to an attorney.

Are You Looking for a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charlotte, NC?

If you are facing criminal charges, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.


Howard W. Long, II
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Charlotte Criminal Defense and DWI Lawyer