Houston Criminal Law Blog

EXPERIENCED. AGGRESSIVE. HOUSTON CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW FIRM: The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp

What Every Defendant Should Know About Coercion and Withdrawing Involuntary Pleas

The majority of criminal cases that currently reach conclusion do so with a guilty plea. Though it seems counterintuitive, a plea bargain may benefit everyone in question. The state benefits from not having to pay for a criminal trial, the prosecutor and judge benefit by not having to try a case, and the defendant benefits from receiving a sentence that is preferential to the one they may receive if they go to trial.

It’s important to remember, however, that even a guilty plea entered for good reasons is still a guilty plea. This plea is invalid, however, if the defendant doesn’t give it voluntarily. Any guilty plea that is the result of coercion or trickery may be voided.

What is Coercion?

Whenever a defendant or someone they know is threatened in order to elicit a plea, coercion has taken place. Coercion also occurs if the defendant is given false promises in order to get him to take the plea. There are several cases when these instances may occur:

  • Family members threatening to rescind their bail or attorneys threatening to quit as defense counse
  • Prosecution makes threats to prosecute a person if they don’t plead guilty even though they have no probable cause for the cas
  • Prosecution makes promises that it has no reason to believe that the judge will make good o
  • Defendant’s family members are threatened with prosecution, even with a lack of probable cause, to elicit a guilty plea

There are, however, cases when promises or threats may be used by the state. The state’s attorney, for instance, could promise to only make certain charges against the defendant if they plead guilty. Additionally, the prosecutor could say that they’ll make a recommendation to the judge to hand down a particular sentence.

Other Involuntary Pleas

There are other cases, which may not be considered coercion, that still constitute an involuntary plea. If the prosecution holds off on showing evidence that would exonerate the defendant, for instance, then the plea the defendant makes may be invalid. Additionally, if a defendant fears that the judge will act harshly towards them if they don’t accept a plea deal that the judge helped create, it could also be considered an involuntary plea.

What if a Plea was Involuntary?

A judge who finds that a defendant’s guilty plea was involuntary will often allow the accused to withdraw his plea. This, in effect, vacates their sentence. At this point, a jury trial is usually held to decide whether or not the defendant is guilty. Additionally, the prosecutor could offer a whole new plea deal, and this would lead to another sentencing hearing as well.

The criminal justice system doesn’t take coerced and other involuntary pleas lightly. If you think your or your family member’s plea may have been involuntary, get a free consultation from The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp by calling 713-868-6100.

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