California Superior Court maintains certain protections for defendants that are entering pleas to resolve criminal cases against them. One law that applies to defendants entering felony pleas to resolve felony cases is Penal Code section 1192.5. This law requires that the trial court in negotiated or conditional pleas of guilty or no contest find a factual basis for the plea. A factual basis is a statement of the facts detailing an individual crime and its particulars, stipulated by the prosecution and the defense, which forms a basis by which a judge can accept a guilty plea from the defendant. If there is no sufficient factual basis to support the conviction then there may be cause to have the court withdraw the plea.


The purpose of imposing a statutory requirement on the court to protect defendants when entering a plea is to prevent the entry of a guilty plea by an innocent defendant. This protection is needed since it is very possible that an innocent defendant could enter a guilty plea because the defendant although he or she realizes what he or she has done, is not sufficiently skilled in law to recognize that his or her acts do not constitute the offense for which he or she is charged.


Typically a defendant can either plead no contest or not guilty when accepting a plea deal from the prosecutor. Basically, there are two types of pleas.

  • 1
    A negotiated or conditional plea, where the plea is conditioned upon receiving a particular disposition or
  • 2
    An open or unconditional plea.

Before accepting a conditional plea, the trial court has a duty to ascertain the factual basis for a plea under Penal Code section 1192.5. Case law has found that this duty of the court only applies to conditional or negotiated pleas.

The Right To Bring A Motion Under Section 1473.7

The People V. Palmer (2013) Decision

The Palmer decision issued late in 2013 builds on the established case law mentioned above. The court in Palmer notes that the rule established in Holmes observed that CA Penal Code 1192.5 requires an inquiry to be made of the defendant by a stipulation by counsel to the plea’s factual basis is consistent with the legislative purpose of the statute. While the defendant may not be in a position to recognize whether his acts do or do not constitute the offense with which he is charged. Defense counsel is well suited to make such a determination. The Palmer court recognized a better approach is for the defendant’s attorney to reference or stipulate a report in the court’s file. The court noted that the report or document should contain facts that provide an adequate factual basis. The decision in Palmer makes clear that the inclusion of such a document is desirable since it eliminates any uncertainty regarding the existence of a factual basis, the trial court satisfies its statutory duty by accepting a stipulation from counsel that a factual basis for the plea exists without also requiring counsel to recite facts or refer to a document in the record. In other words, the Palmer decision established that if the defendant’s attorney stipulates then that is enough to satisfy Penal Code Section 1192.5.

Actual Innocence


A conditional or negotiated plea is a plea that is conditioned on accepting a certain deal. For example, if a defendant in a felony case is given the opportunity to serve his or her confinement under house arrest if he or she accepts the plea deal then the plea is a conditional plea. In other words, a conditional plea is a plea that is conditioned upon an agreement with the prosecutor. When a conditional or negotiated plea is accepted by the defendant, Penal Code section 1192.5 requires the trial court to cause an inquiry to be made of the defendant to satisfy itself that the plea is freely and voluntarily made and that there is a factual basis for the plea.

Courts Have a Responsibility to Find Factual Basis

In the California Supreme Court Case of People v. Holmes (2004) the Court laid out the guidelines a trial court must follow to comply with to ensure that there is a sufficient factual basis to ensure a plea is entered properly. The court found that a trial court can inquire with the defendant to develop the factual basis on the record or inquire of either the defendant’s attorney or put forth a stipulation to a report contained in the court file, such as a probation report, police report or plea form (with a factual basis paragraph written on the plea form). Moreover, the Holmes court found that the penal code section 1192.5 only requires aprima facia factual basis for the charge to be established. This means that the trial court is also not required to interrogate the defendant about possible defenses. Also, the trial court is also not required to be convinced the defendant is guilty.

How does the lack of factual basis argument work?

In Holmes the Supreme Court provided a remedy for failure to properly inquire, the trial court’s acceptance of the guilty plea, after pursuing an inquiry to satisfy itself that there is a factual basis for the plea will be reversed only for abuse of discretion. The Holmes Court found that under this standard an error will qualify as harmless where the contents of the case record support a finding of a factual basis for the conditional plea. Under this standard, an entry of a guilty plea must be vacated where there is no record to support a finding of a factual basis for the plea.

If a judge fails to establish a factual basis prior to accepting a felony guilty plea then a defendant can motion to have the plea vacated.