A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

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By Burt Rose

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has issued a decision in the matter ofCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant v. Jose A. CARRASQUILLO, Appellee, 2015 WL 3684430, No. 7 EAP 2014 (June 15, 2015)

This was an appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court, #1045 EDA 2011, 78 A.3d 1120 (Pa.Super.2013), dated October 8, 2013, vacating a Judgment of Sentence of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, CP–51–CR–0009652–2009 and CP–51–CR–0009653–2009. The case was before Justices SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER,TODD and STEVENS.

The Superior Court had ruled that an unambiguous assertion of innocence—regardless of its rationality, clarity, sincerity, or plausibility—was sufficient to warrant withdrawal of a guilty plea. Chief JusticeSAYLOR wrote for the entire Court that a presentence motion to withdraw a guilty plea should not be granted merely because the defendant has made a bare assertion of innocence.

A defendant’s innocence claim must be at least plausible to demonstrate, in and of itself, a fair and just reason for presentence withdrawal of a plea. The proper inquiry on consideration of a plea withdrawal motion is whether the accused has made “some colorable demonstration” such that permitting withdrawal of the plea “would promote fairness and justice”. The Court stated that “The policy of liberality remains extant but has its limits, consistent with the affordance of a degree of discretion to the common pleas courts.”

Here, Appellee’s assertion was first made in sentencing allocution, after the close of the evidentiary record, along with bizarre statements that he was the antichrist. In these circumstances, the common pleas court acted within its discretion to refuse the attempted withdrawal of the plea. The Superior Court was reversed.


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