Can I Plead to a "Wet Reckless" in New York?

Plea bargaining a reduced charge in New York drunk driving cases.

April 1, 2016

In many states, it’s possible for a person who’s charged with driving under the influence (DUI) to "plea bargain" for a lesser charge. The term “wet reckless” refers to a plea bargain where a DUI is reduced to a reckless driving charge. New York, however, severely limits plea bargaining in DUI cases. For most New York DUI defendants pleading to a wet reckless isn’t an option.

(Read about New York's reckless driving laws and penalties.)

New York has multiple offense classifications for driving under the influence. The restrictions on plea bargaining depend on which offense you’re charged with. The offense classifications include:

  • DWI (Driving while intoxicated):  Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher or impaired to a “substantial extent”
  • Aggravated DWI:  BAC of .18% or higher
  • Alcohol-DWAI (driving while ability impaired):  Ability to drive as a “reasonable and prudent” driver has been impaired to “any extent” by only alcohol
  • Drug-DWAI:  Ability to drive as a “reasonable and prudent” driver has been impaired to “any extent” by drugs (read more about New York drug-DWAIs)
  • Combination-DWAI:  Ability to drive as a “reasonable and prudent” driver has been impaired to “any extent” by a combination of alcohol and drugs

An aggravated DUI is the most serious of these offenses. Down from there, a DWI, drug-DWAI, and combination-DWAI, all carry approximately the same penalties. And an alcohol-DWAI is the least serious of New York’s DUI offenses. (For more information about DWI and DWAI penalties, see New York DWI Laws.)

Generally, defendants charged with a DWI, drug-DWAI, or combination-DWAI, can plea bargain only for one of the DUI offenses. So, for these defendants, the best plea bargain available is for an alcohol-DWAI (the offense that carries the least penalties). Drivers charged with an aggravated DWI face similar restrictions—the charge can be reduced only to a DWI.

However, New York law doesn’t prohibit plea bargaining for defendants charged alcohol-DWAIs. In these cases, it might be possible for a criminal defense attorney to negotiate a plea agreement for reckless driving or another lesser charge.

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