Most DUI cases are resolved through plea bargaining. In other words, the defendant agrees to plead guilty or "no contest" to a criminal charge in exchange for some form of leniency from the prosecution. For instance, a DUI plea bargain might involve a defendant pleading guilty to a DUI charge in exchange for the prosecution agreeing to fines and jail time that are below the allowable maximums. In other cases, a plea bargain might involve the prosecution dismissing the DUI charge and the defendant entering a plea to a less serious charge. When such a plea deal is for a reckless driving charge, it's sometimes called a "wet reckless."
State laws differ, and the facts of every case are different. But here are some of the basics about wet-reckless plea bargains.
Reckless driving is a crime in every state. However, some states use other terms for the offense, like "driving to endanger" and "reckless operation." Generally, you can be convicted of reckless driving for purposefully or knowingly operating a vehicle in a manner that poses a substantial danger to other people or property.
Oftentimes, reckless driving involves instances of observably treacherous driving such as street racing, weaving through traffic, or driving at high speeds in areas where there are pedestrians. But in the DUI context, the driver's intoxication alone might be enough to qualify as reckless driving. In other words, even if an intoxicated motorist's driving pattern is normal, the act of operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be considered inherently dangerous to other people and property.
Some states, including California, even have a brand of reckless driving that's specific to offenses involving drugs or alcohol. These drug- and alcohol-related offenses typically come with consequences in addition to those imposed for standard reckless driving. For instance, some states require substance abuse treatment for reckless driving convictions that involved drugs or alcohol.
Plea bargaining rules differ by state. But the majority of states allow some plea bargaining in DUI cases. So, while prosecutors are often reluctant to reduce a DUI to a reckless driving charge, it's at least a possibility in most states. There are, however, a few states that prohibit plea bargaining altogether in cases where DUI charges are filed. Of course, for defendants in these states, a wet reckless plea deal isn't normally an option.
Generally, prosecutors are willing to offer a wet reckless only in cases with either significant mitigating factors or weaknesses in the evidence. Mitigating factors might include things like:
The presence of aggravating factors, on the other hand, ordinarily diminishes your chances of getting a wet reckless plea deal. For example, prosecutors are typically unwilling to reduce DUI charges in cases involving accident and injuries.
When there are evidentiary problems, prosecutors start to worry about whether they'll be able to prove the charges in court. Rather than risk losing at trial, a prosecutor might offer a defendant a favorable plea deal, like a wet reckless. Evidentiary problems come in lots of varieties. But oftentimes, these issues relate to uncertainty about being able to prove the defendant's BAC. (An understanding of common DUI defenses can give you an idea of when a defendant might have better bargaining power.)
Generally, reckless driving carries less severe penalties than a DUI charge. So, a wet reckless plea deal typically means lower fines and less potential jail time than would result from being convicted of a DUI.
A wet reckless plea can also have advantages with regard to license-related consequences. Many states allow judges to suspend a motorist's license for reckless driving. But for DUI convictions, license suspension is typically mandatory for six months to a year. And a DUI conviction will generally add more traffic violation demerit points to person's driving record than will a reckless driving violation.
Wet reckless convictions and DUI convictions carry different penalties, but a wet reckless conviction can count as a prior DUI. In some states, someone who has a wet reckless conviction and then is convicted of DUI will be sentenced as a repeat DUI offender.
DUI laws differ by state, and the facts of every case are unique. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, get in contact with an experienced DUI lawyer in your area. A qualified attorney can explain how the law applies in your situation and help you decide how best to handle your case.