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Court of Appeals Rules That Molestation Plea May Be Withdrawn

September 26, 2019

In Hood v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the defendant was entitled to withdraw his guilty plea to charges of child molestation and statutory rape, concluding that since his original sentence was determined to be void, judgment in his case had not yet been entered.

In 2011, the defendant entered a negotiated plea to the offenses of statutory rape and child molestation. He later filed a motion to vacate his sentence arguing that the sentence failed to comply with the split-sentence requirements of O.C.G.A. § 17-10-6.2. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals vacated the child molestation sentence on these grounds.

Following the first appeal, the defendant then sought to withdraw his guilty plea arguing that since his sentence was vacated, he was entitled by law to withdraw his plea prior to being resentenced. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the defendant waived his right to withdraw the plea since the “negotiated plea between the State and [the defendant] foster[ed] both the interests of the State of Georgia and of [the defendant] by allowing both parties to avoid the uncertainty of a jury trial.”

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court’s denial of his motion was erroneous as he had a statutory right to withdraw the plea prior to his resentencing pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 17-7-93. The Court of Appeals agreed, noting that subsection (b) of the statute provides that “[a]t any time before judgment is pronounced, the accused person may withdraw the plea of ‘guilty’ and plead ‘not guilty.’”

The Court explained that in Georgia a defendant has an absolute statutory right to withdraw a guilty plea before the pronouncement of his sentence. The Court then reasoned that since a void sentence is essentially a nullity, it is as if the defendant had never been sentenced. Therefore, the defendant stands in the position he was in prior to his initial sentencing. In this instance, he is entitled to withdraw his guilty plea even after the expiration of the term of court or any other appeal deadlines.

As a result, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea was erroneous and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

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