New Rules for Motion to Withdraw a Guilty Plea – State v. Slater
This morning’s Supreme Court decision in State v. Slater provided the Justices with the opportunity to develop a new balancing test that judges in this state should now use when deciding whether to permit a defendant to withdraw a previously entered plea of guilty.
Apart from the standards set forth in the current Rules of Court (Rule 3:9-2 and Rule 7:6-2(b)), judges will now be required to consider and balance four factors in evaluating motions to withdraw a guilty plea: (1) whether the defendant has asserted a colorable claim of innocence; (2) the nature and strength of defendant’s reasons for withdrawal; (3) the existence of a plea bargain; and (4) whether withdrawal would result in unfair prejudice to the State or unfair advantage to the accused. Trial courts should consider and balance all of the factors in assessing a motion for withdrawal of a plea. No factor is mandatory; if one is missing, that does not automatically disqualify or dictate relief.
It should be noted that although the trial court in Slater rejected the defendant’s motion to vacate his plea as simply a “change of mind”, the Supreme Court found that he had met the burden as established in the new balancing test and authorized the plea to be vacated.
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