Plea Bargains & Charge Reductions in California DUI Cases

 

A California DUI plea bargain involves your DUI defense attorney negotiating for either: 1) reduced DUI penalties in exchange for a guilty plea, or 2) a reduced charge--a "charge reduction"--to which you will plead guilty. 

Deciding whether to fight your DUI charges at trial or negotiate a plea bargain is one of the most important parts of the DUI court process in California.

Some of the most common charge reductions that might be secured as part of a DUI plea bargain include:

The chart below summarizes the major California DUI plea bargain offenses that we discuss in this article:

DUI Charge Reduction

Misdemeanor or Infraction?

Priorable Offense for Future DUI Penalties?

Mandatory Driver's License Suspension?

Points on Driving Record?

Wet reckless (VC 23103.5)

Misdemeanor

Yes

No

2

Dry reckless (VC 23103)

Misdemeanor

No

No

2

Exhibition of speed (VC 23109(c))

Misdemeanor

No

No

2

Drunk in public (PC 647(f))

Misdemeanor

No

No

None

Drinking alcohol in a vehicle (VC 23221)

Infraction

No

No

None

Traffic violations

Infraction

No

No

Usually 2

DUI Charge Reduction

Type of Offense; Points Added to Driving Record

Wet reckless (VC 23103.5)

Priorable misdemeanor; 2

Dry reckless (VC 23103)

Misdemeanor; 2

Exhibition of speed (VC 23109(c))

Misdemeanor; 2

Drunk in public (PC 647(f))

Misdemeanor; none

Drinking alcohol in a vehicle (VC 23221)

Infraction; none

Traffic violations

Infraction; usually 2

Below, our California DUI defense attorneys address the following:

If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. How Do I Decide Whether to Go to Trial or Seek a Plea Bargain in My DUI Case?

You should work closely with your drunk driving defense attorney to determine whether your best strategy in your DUI case is to:

  1. Take the case to trial, or
  2. Seek a negotiated solution (a charge reduction/plea bargain) with the prosecutor.

If you go to trial and win, the case is dismissed. But if you lose, the judge has wide discretion as to how to sentence you.

The judge sentences you based on your convicted charge--which, in a DUI case, is generally Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC driving under the influence and/or Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC driving with a BAC of 0.08 or above.4 

Handcuffs-beside-car-keys-and-whiskey-glass-representing-DUI
The choice between going to trial and a DUI plea bargain is an important one in any California DUI case.

The penalties for these offenses may be better or worse than what you expected. California DUI penalties depend on the circumstances of the offense and whether you have prior DUIs on your record--but almost always include a driver's license suspension and hefty fines.

A plea bargain, on the other hand, is a negotiated settlement of your case that takes place between your California DUI attorney and the prosecutor. The benefit here is that you know what your sentence will be before you plead guilty.

According to Palm Springs DUI defense attorney John Murray5

"Ultimately, the choice between taking your DUI to trial and trying for a plea bargain is one you and your lawyer will have to make together, looking at all the circumstances of your case. For many of my clients, I find the choice hinges on these factors: how strong the evidence against you is, and how much tolerance you have for the risk of a trial versus the relative certainty of a plea bargain."

2. What are the Best Charge Reductions from California DUI?

As we mentioned above, a "plea bargain" in a California DUI case can take one of two forms: a sentence reduction or a charge reduction.

A sentence reduction is when you plead guilty to a California DUI, with a set of agreed-upon penalties, rather than leaving your DUI sentencing to the judge at trial.

A charge reduction is when you plead guilty to another charge--usually one that carries lighter penalties and less stigma than a DUI.

The most common charge reductions from DUI secured as part of a plea bargain deal are:

2.1. Wet reckless as a DUI plea bargain

A wet reckless under VC 23103 and 23103.5 is typically the first level of DUI reduction that the prosecution will consider. The "wet" in wet reckless means that this is a reckless driving conviction with a specification that alcohol (or in some cases drugs) was involved in the arrest.6

Smashed-beer-cans-beside-car-keys-representing-DUI
Wet reckless is often the first plea bargain that a prosecutor in a DUI case will offer.

The main advantages of a "wet reckless" plea bargain over a California DUI are that a wet reckless subjects you to

  • less likelihood of jail time,
  • reduced fines, and
  • no mandatory license suspension.7

The significant downside is that, like a California DUI, a wet reckless charge is still "priorable." This means that if you are convicted of a DUI within 10 years of your wet reckless plea bargain, you will be sentenced as a repeat DUI offender--with more severe penalties.8

2.2. Dry reckless as a DUI plea bargain

VC 23103 dry reckless is a simple misdemeanor reckless driving conviction, without any mention of alcohol or drugs being involved.9

The major advantages that dry reckless has over wet reckless as a DUI plea bargain/charge reduction are that a dry reckless

  1. doesn't count as a DUI on your criminal and driving record, and
  2. probably won't have the same effect on your car insurance premium as a DUI or wet reckless.

There is really only one drawback to a dry reckless plea bargain: like a "wet reckless" and a DUI, it will give you two points on your DMV record.10  Acquiring too many points in a given time period triggers a negligent operator license suspension.

That said, most California DUI attorneys regard plea bargaining a DUI down to a dry reckless as a very good result.

2.3. Exhibition of speed as a DUI plea bargain

Exhibition of speed under Vehicle Code 23109(c) VC is a less-common charge reduction from California DUI. It is typically offered as a plea bargain in cases where the prosecutor suspects that his/her case is fairly weak.

Speedometer
Exhibition of speed is available as a DUI plea bargain in cases where the prosecution's evidence is weak.

"Speed ex" is still a misdemeanor offense, subjecting you to probation, fines, and possibly jail time. But in reality, with an exhibition of speed plea bargain from DUI, you would likely pay a reduced fine, be on a short probation, and serve no jail time.11

Like the other DUI charge reductions we have discussed so far, exhibition of speed adds two points to your DMV record.12

2.4. Drunk in public as a DUI charge reduction

A drunk in public (DIP) charge is a less common product of DUI plea bargaining.

DIP may be offered or requested as a DUI plea bargain if it was obvious that you were drunk--but not so obvious that you were driving.  An example would be if you were passed out in a parked car.  

Drunk in public is usually charged against people who are allegedly intoxicated in a public place to the point where they pose a safety threat to themselves and/or others. But it is also recognized as a reduced DUI charge sometimes agreed upon as part of plea bargain negotiations.

A drunk in public conviction is also a misdemeanor, subjecting you to possible jail time and limited fines. Because it is not a driving-related offense, it will not lead to points on your driving record.13

2.5. Drinking alcohol in a vehicle as a DUI plea bargain

In some circumstances, a DUI could be reduced to a charge of consuming alcoholic beverages in a vehicle under Vehicle Code 23221 VC. This law makes it a crime for either drivers or passengers to drink alcohol in a car on a public street.14 

Friends-drinking-in-car
Drinking alcohol in a vehicle is a DUI charge reduction that is only an infraction.

As a plea bargain, VC 23221 makes sense in cases where there is some evidence that you were drinking while driving--but the prosecution's case that you were actually impaired by the alcohol or over the legal limit is weak.

Drinking alcohol in a vehicle is an infraction, carrying only a minor non-criminal fine, for drivers who are 21 and over. It will not add points to your driving record.15

2.6. Traffic infractions as DUI charge reductions

Prosecutors offer traffic infractions or moving violations as DUI plea bargains only as a last resort, in cases where they are fairly certain the DUI charges won't stick.  

Like VC 23221 drinking alcohol in a vehicle, traffic infractions are not criminal convictions and carry only minor fines.16 Prosecutors sometimes will offer two traffic infractions--called a "pair of movers"--in lieu of a DUI. The idea is that you could do traffic school on one of them, and sustain the DMV points on the other.

Examples where traffic infractions or "movers" might be offered as a DUI plea bargain charge reduction include situations where:

  • The prosecutor believed that there were too many Title 17 violations,
  • Other proper police procedures weren't adhered to, or
  • The results of the chemical test couldn't be validated by the prosecution's criminalist.

How many points you receive on your DMV record after a traffic violation plea bargain will depend on what violation(s) you are able to reduce your DUI charges to.  As a bargaining tool, the prosecutor will usually insist on a combination totaling at least two points.

Call us for help . . . 

DUI-defense-firm-call-center

If you or a loved one is in need of help with DUI plea bargains/charge reductions and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

To learn about reducing a Nevada DUI to "reckless driving," please see our page on Reducing a Nevada DUI to "Reckless Driving."

You may also find helpful information in our articles on The DUI Court Process in California; The Top 10 Ways to Fight Your DUI Charges at Trial;  "Wet Reckless" Under Vehicle Code 23103 VC, Per Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC; "Dry Reckless" Under Vehicle Code 23103 VC; Exhibition of Speed Under Vehicle Code 23109(c) VC; Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC Driving Under the Influence; Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC Driving with a BAC of 0.08 or Above; California DUI Penalties; Driver's License Suspension for California DUI; Legal Definition of a Misdemeanor; The Effect of a DUI on Car Insurance Premiums; Points on Your DMV Record; Negligent Operator License Suspensions; The California Crime of Drunk in Public (DIP); Consuming Alcoholic Beverages in a Vehicle Under Vehicle Code 23221 VC; Legal Definition of a California Infraction; and Title 17 Violations in California DUI Cases.

Additional Resources:

California DMV: What is a Point

DMV Driver Safety Offices: Locations and Hours


Legal References: 

  1. Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC -- Wet reckless [common California DUI plea bargain]. ("(a) If the prosecution agrees to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of a violation of Section 23103 in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of Section 23152, the prosecution shall state for the record a factual basis for the satisfaction or substitution, including whether or not there had been consumption of an alcoholic beverage or ingestion or administration of a drug, or both, by the defendant in connection with the offense. The statement shall set forth the facts that show whether or not there was a consumption of an alcoholic beverage or the ingestion or administration of a drug by the defendant in connection with the offense.")
  2. Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless [common California DUI plea bargain]. (" (a) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. . . . (c) Except as otherwise provided in Section 40008, persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than one hundred forty-five dollars ($145) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.")
  3. Vehicle Code 23109(c) VC -- Exhibition of speed [common California DUI charge reduction or plea bargain]. (" (c) A person shall not engage in a motor vehicle exhibition of speed on a highway, and a person shall not aid or abet in a motor vehicle exhibition of speed on any highway. . . . (i) A person who violates subdivision (b), (c), or (d) shall upon conviction of that violation be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than 90 days, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both that fine and imprisonment.")
  4. Vehicle Code 23152 VC -- California DUI law. ("(a) It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle. (b) It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.")
  5. Palm Springs DUI defense attorney John Murray is a leading expert in California DUI defense strategy, including plea bargain and charge reduction options. He has extensive experience both in the court systems of Los Angeles County and Ventura County and in California DMV hearings.
  6. Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC -- Wet reckless [common California DUI plea bargain], endnote 1 above.
  7. See Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless [common California DUI plea bargain], endnote 2 above. But note that even if your DUI charge is plea bargained down to a wet or dry reckless, you may still suffer a drivers license suspension if you lose your DUI DMV hearing. To avoid a license suspension altogether, you must both get your DUI charge reduced in court to a lesser offense and win your DMV hearing.
  8. See, e.g., Vehicle Code 23540 VC -- Penalties for second California DUI, including after a wet reckless plea bargain.
  9. Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless [common California DUI plea bargain], endnote 2 above.
  10. Vehicle Code 12810 VC -- Traffic points [including for common DUI charge reduction offenses].
  11. Vehicle Code 23109(c) VC -- Exhibition of speed [common California DUI charge reduction or plea bargain], endnote 3 above.
  12. Vehicle Code 12810 VC -- Traffic points [including for common DUI charge reduction offenses].
  13. Penal Code 647(f) PC -- Drunk in public [less common DUI plea bargain].
  14. Vehicle Code 23221 VC -- Drinking alcohol in a motor vehicle [less common DUI charge reduction].
  15. Vehicle Code 40000.1 VC -- Infractions [including certain DUI plea bargain offenses like VC 23221]. See also Vehicle Code 12810 VC -- Traffic points [including for common DUI charge reduction offenses].
  16. Penal Code 19.8(b) PC -- Infractions [including certain DUI charge reductions offenses]. ("(b) Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed, every offense declared to be an infraction is punishable by a fine not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250).")

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