State v. Lankford, ___ N.C. App. ___, 831 S.E.2d 109 (Jul. 2, 2019)

Pursuant to a plea agreement, the defendant entered a no contest plea to charges including fleeing to elude and being an habitual felon, and in return several other charges were dismissed by the state. The defendant was advised of what his sentence would be, but was released on conditions until his sentencing date two months later. The defendant failed to appear for sentencing, and an order for his arrest was issued. At the next court hearing, the defendant asked to withdraw his no contest plea. The trial court denied the request and entered judgment.

As a matter of first impression, the Court of Appeals held that when a defendant has been advised of what his or her sentence will be, the standard for evaluating whether the defendant should have been allowed to withdraw from the plea is the same as the standard used after a defendant has been sentenced: “it is appropriate to review the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion only to determine whether it amounted to a manifest injustice, and not according to the ‘any fair and just reason’ standard.” The court reasoned that the same considerations (e.g, the possibility that the defendant will view the plea as a ‘tactical mistake’ once he learns the sentence, the state’s detrimental reliance on the plea, and the policy of protecting the finality of convictions) are present in both situations, so the same standard should apply.

Alternatively, even under the lower ‘any fair and just reason’ standard that applies to requests to withdraw a guilty or no contest plea prior to sentencing, the particular facts of this case did not warrant relief.