A Recent Georgia Supreme Court Decision on Withdrawing Guilty Pleas

A Georgia Supreme Court case that was recently decided sheds light on what circumstances would allow a guilty plea to be withdrawn and highlights the importance of hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer early in the process of defending yourself against serious criminal charges.

In Moody v. State, decided on May 16, 2023, the Georgia Supreme Court explains when and why a defendant may choose to withdraw their guilty plea. In Moody, Jeremy Moody was charged with the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl and the murder of her friend in Fulton County. The crimes occurred on April 5, 2007, Moody was indicted on April 20, 2007, and the State filed written notice that they were seeking the death penalty on May 1, 2007. Moody’s trial began on April 10, 2013, but Moody pleaded guilty to all charges shortly after trial began. The sentencing phase of Moody’s trial began on April 15 and, before a sentence was pronounced, Moody announced that he wished to withdraw his guilty plea.

In normal cases, according to O.C.G.A. § 17-7-93 (b), a defendant may withdraw their guilty plea at any time up until their sentence is pronounced. But, in cases where the State is seeking the death penalty, a defendant may only withdraw their guilty plea “to prevent a manifest injustice.” Browner v. State, 257 Ga. 321 (1987). In this case, Moody argues that his plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered and that this creates a manifest injustice. The Court found that Moody was 35 years old, had completed his G.E.D., and was not under the influence at the time of his plea. Moody also told the judge that he understood what the plea meant and that he had sufficient time to discuss the plea with his lawyer. The Court found that Moody was not coerced into pleading guilty and that he was not doing so for any reason other than because it was what he wanted to do.

This case highlights why it is important to be represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Although you may withdraw a guilty plea at any time before the sentence is pronounced in cases in which the State is not seeking the death penalty, it is very difficult to withdraw a plea after you have been sentenced by the court. The lawyers at W. Scott Smith are experienced in pre-trial negotiations and will work alongside you to determine if a plea bargain is in your best interest. If you desire a trial, the lawyers at W. Scott Smith will guarantee that you get your day in court. Call our office at 404-581-0999 today for a free consultation.