The Defendant was charged with violently raping two adolescent girls within one hour. He pled guilty, and answered appropriately all questions during the colloquy, but at his sentencing on a later date, when allocuting, proclaimed his innocence. In response to a question from the court the defendant said he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea. The Commonwealth objected because it had promised one of the victims that she would not have to testify. The court denied the oral motion to withdraw, and sentenced him to an aggregate term of 66 years. On appeal, the Superior Court reversed. In doing so, it reiterated holdings from prior cases that an assertion of innocence is a fair and just reason— the pre-sentence standard for withdrawal of guilty pleas— for seeking pre-sentence withdrawal of a guilty plea. A claim of actual innocence is enough, even if, as in this defendant’s case, based upon the available evidence which seems outlandish and fantastical. A defendant does not have to supply evidence for his innocence claim to withdraw his plea before sentencing.
The Court did not find that the Commonwealth established substantial prejudice requiring denial of the motion to withdraw the guilty plea. The defendant did not engage in illegal conduct delaying the case. It was not in a worse situation than it would have been in had it had to try the case in the first place. While sympathetic to the plight of the victims, that was not enough to deny the motion to withdraw, so the case was remanded for trial.
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