Grounds to Vacate Guilty Plea

Criminal Appeals Trials Motions to VacateA Motion for New Trial, pursuant to Rule 30 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure, may be used by a Defendant who is challenging the validity of a guilty plea. A Judge should only grant a post sentence motion to withdraw a plea if the Defendant comes forward with a credible reason which outweighs the risk of prejudice to the Commonwealth.

The following are some some examples of common scenarios where a Defendant can vacate his guilty plea—this is not a complete list so we encourage you to contact our law firm if  you, or a loved one wish to have a guilty plea vacated, call our Massachusetts law offices today at (508) 584-6955 for your free legal consultation.

Guilty Plea must be Knowing, Intelligent, and Voluntary

In order fro a guilty plea to be valid it must be made intelligently and voluntary. The reason that a plea must be “voluntary” is that when a defendant pleads guilty, he is a witness against himself and is protected by the Fifth Amendment from being compelled to do so; therefore, his plea must be the voluntary expression of his own choice. The plea must be “intelligently” made because waiver of constitutional rights not only must be voluntary but must also be knowing, intelligent acts done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and the likely consequences. The voluntariness of a plea of guilty and the factual basis of the plea are separate concepts. Thus, even if a defendant understands the charges against him, a question that must be addressed is whether the defendant’s plea is voluntary in the sense that it was not extracted from him. (30 Mass. Prac., Criminal Practice & Procedure § 24:62 (4th ed). The plea must be “knowingly” in the respect that the Defendant understands the charges against him and the elements of the crimes charged. Therefore, a Defendant has grounds to vacate his guilty plea if: 1) the guilty plea was not made voluntarily, or 2) the guilty plea was not made intelligently, or 3) the guilty plea was not made knowingly.

The Colloquy

In order for a Defendant’s guilty plea to be valid, the Defendant must make his plea knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. A Defendant has grounds to vacate his guilty plea; if it is proven that his plea was not made knowingly, intelligently, or voluntarily. Before his guilty plea is accepted by the court, the Judge must conduct a colloquy where the Judge asks the Defendant questions to ensure that the guilty plea is knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. The purpose of the colloquy is the basic assurance that the defendant, represented by counsel, is free of coercion or the like; understands the nature of the crimes charged; knows the extent of his guilt; recognizes the basic penal consequences involved; and is aware that he can have a trial if he wants one. The plea may be invalid where the colloquy was defective, if the Judge failed to make certain inquiries, or the Judge otherwise failed to conduct a sufficient probe of the Defendant.

Competency of Defendant to Enter Plea

In order for a Defendant’s guilty plea to be valid, the Defendant must be mentally competent to enter that plea. A Defendant is competent to enter a plea if two prongs are met: 1) Defendant has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and 2) Defendant has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him. For example, if the Defendant suffers from a mental illness, has limited powers of comprehension, is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication, he may not be competent to enter a plea, so long as those impediments satisfy the legal standard.

No Immigration Warning

When a Defendant pleads guilty, the judge is required by law to advise the Defendant of the immigration consequences of that plea. Pursuant to G.L. c. 278 §29D, a Defendant, who has pled guilty to a crime, has grounds to vacate his conviction if the judge failed to advise him of the immigration consequences of that plea. A Defendant may move to vacate his plea at any time and there is no time limit. In addition, a Defendant may move to vacate his plea due to ineffective assistance of counsel where his Attorney failed to advise him of the immigration consequences of that plea.

Language Barriers / Interpreter

A Defendant, who is a non-English speaker, may have grounds to vacate his guilty plea. A non-English speaker has the right to have the assistance of an interpreter throughout a legal proceeding. See G.L. c. 221C, §2. A non-English speaking Defendant has grounds to vacate his guilty plea where the Court fails to appoint him an interpreter and fails to have a qualified interpreter present to translate the legal proceedings to him. Sometimes, a non-English speaking Defendant will waive his right to an interpreter and pled guilty without the assistance of an interpreter. However, in order for his guilty plea to be valid, the judge must find that his waiver is knowingly and voluntarily made. See G.L. c. 221C, §3.


Experienced Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorneys for Motion to Vacate Guilty Plea

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If you or a loved one wish to have a guilty plea vacated, call our Massachusetts law offices today at (508) 584-6955 for your free legal consultation.

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