Does the Golden State Permit Plea Bargains for DUIs?
by Rich Stim, Attorney
The term, “wet reckless,” is used to describe a reduced plea arrangement made by a driver arrested for driving while intoxicated. (The driver pleads to reckless driving with alcohol involved -- hence the “wet” reference.) A wet reckless plea typically carries fewer obligations, punishments, and costs than a traditional DUI.
California Wet Reckless
Cal. Vehicle Code § 23103.5 allows a defendant to make a plea of Nolo contendere for reckless driving along with a notation that alcohol was entailed. Keep in mind, however, that because of public pressure, most prosecutors are selective about permitting such plea bargains. They are typically made for first offenses where the driver’s BAC is borderline (or slightly below the .08% requirement), and where there was no property damage or personal injury resulting from the incident.
The probationary period for a wet reckless in California is usually one or two years, (versus three to five in a DUI). There is no mandatory jail time on a wet reckless and the maximum jail time for a wet reckless is 90 days.
By the way, a "wet" reckless conviction and DUI conviction can often be expunged (see Penal Code 1203.4) once the sentence has been completed.
The advantages of a wet reckless plea are that the fines are lower and there is usually no jail time. The driver’s DUI record is kept clean. However, if the driver later is arrested for a DUI within 10 years of the earlier offense, the wet reckless will be treated like a prior-DUI conviction. In other words, the newer arrest will handled as if it were a second DUI offense (with the accompanying penalties).
Some drivers are surprised to learn that insurance rates often jump higher for drivers convicted of a wet reckless than a DUI (although both are labeled as "high risk drivers”). That’s because the statistical data used by insurance companies shows that reckless drivers get in more accidents than those convicted of DUI.
Seek an Attorney’s Help
Although it’s possible for a California driver to handle a plea bargain, it is strongly recommended that the driver seek an attorney’s assistance when attempting to plead down a DUI to a wet reckless.