It is common in Pennsylvania for a criminal defendant to plead guilty to some or all of the crimes alleged and leave court on the same day without a sentence. Entering a guilty plea and sentencing are two distinct interactions with the court, and are not required to take place simultaneously. Courts will often require a pre-sentence investigation be conducted after the plea but prior to sentencing, providing the court with some background about the crime and the defendant to aid the court at the sentencing hearing. During the months following the plea but before sentencing, some defendants change their mind and decide they would rather exercise their constitutional right to a trial, and seek to withdraw the guilty plea.
For the past forty years when presented with a motion to withdraw a guilty plea prior to sentencing, if the trial court found “any fair and just reason,” withdrawal of the plea was to be freely permitted unless the prosecution had been “substantially prejudiced.” The Superior Court of Pennsylvania reiterated the well-established principle that the “mere articulation of innocence” is a fair and just reason for withdrawal of a guilty plea as recently as 2011. Such requests to withdraw a guilty plea were to be “liberally allowed” by the court, favoring defendants.