Guilty Plea, Authority to Vacate, and Defendant's Right to Withdraw

La justice
by Bernard d'Agesci
[Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons


On November 7, 2012, Hon. James W. Palmer, J.S.C., rejected a plea agreement between the State of New Jersey and defendant Stephen Headley, according to

On June 5, 2012, Headley pleaded guilty to the murder of Nicole Ayres, according to

At the guilty plea, Judge Palmer indicated he would likely sentence Headley to 30 years State Prison without parole, as reported by

But Judge Palmer changed his mind, and instead rejected the deal brought before him by the State and the defense.

Sources of Authority

New Jersey Rules of Court

Courts in the Garden State may vacate a defendant's guilty plea. If this happens, the defendant has the right to withdraw the plea. New Jersey Rules of Court provide:
If at the time of sentencing the court determines that the interests of justice would not be served by effectuating the agreement reached by the prosecutor and defense counsel or by imposing sentence in accordance with the court's previous indications of sentence, the court may vacate the plea or the defendant shall be permitted to withdraw the plea.

R. 3:9-3(e) (2012).

New Jersey Rules of Evidence

Any defendant who exercises his right to trial under these circumstances will not face the evidence of the guilty plea at trial. New Jersey Rules of Evidence provide:
  • of a plea of guilty which was later withdrawn,
  • of any statement made in the course of that plea proceeding, and
  • of any statement made during plea negotiations
when either
  • no guilty plea resulted or
  • a guilty plea was later withdrawn,
is not admissible in any civil or criminal proceeding against the person who made the plea or statement or who was the subject of the plea negotiations.

N.J.R.E. 410 (2012).
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