"Wet Reckless" as a Plea Bargain in California DUI Cases

Being arrested for a California DUI doesn't necessarily mean you have to be convicted of that charge.

The goal of a skilled California drunk driving defense attorney is obviously to have your charges dismissed.  But fighting a DUI case can also mean efforts to secure a reduced charge with a reduced sentence.

California DUI plea bargaining generally involves negotiations to get the Vehicle Code 23152(a) and Vehicle Code 23152(b) charges reduced to:

In this article, our California drunk driving defense lawyers will provide a comprehensive guide to understanding the most commonly reduced California DUI charge -- the California "wet reckless".  The topics we will address include:

1. California Wet Reckless -- Vehicle Code 23103, per 23103.5 VC
2. What are the Advantages to a Wet Reckless?
3. What is the Downside to a Wet Reckless?
4. When is a California DUI Typically Reduced to Wet Reckless?

If after reading this article you have additional questions, we invite you to contact us.

1. California Wet Reckless -- Vehicle Code 23103, per 23103.5 VC

A California "wet reckless" is generally the first level of DUI reduction that the prosecution will offer.  The "wet" in a California wet reckless implies that you were involved in an alcohol (or even drug) related driving offense.

A California wet reckless is unique because it's not a charge for which you can be arrested.  It is a charge that is only offered as a plea bargained settlement in place of a DUI (under Vehicle Code 23103 per 23103.5 VC).  Although there are some definite advantages to a wet reckless, there are some definite drawbacks as well.

2. What are the Advantages to a Wet Reckless?

Whether a wet reckless is a lucrative plea bargain depends on the circumstances of the particular DUI case.

  • No mandatory sentencing enhancements for repeat offenders

Each time you get convicted for a California DUI within a ten year "look back" period, your jail sentence and license suspension automatically increase.  For example, a second time DUI carries a minimum 96 hours of jail, while a third time DUI requires a minimum 120 days jail. These are just statutory minimum California DUI penalties....many counties impose more jail time for repeat offenders.

But a wet reckless conviction entails no mandatory jail time, regardless of how many DUI priors the person has. Someone facing a third time California DUI charge can potentially escape 120 days or more of jail by getting the charge reduced down to a wet reckless. Thus multiple offenders tend to benefit the most from this type of plea bargain.

  • Shorter county jail sentence

Unlike a DUI that carries a maximum six-month jail sentence.and up to a year for a second or third offense.a California wet reckless has a 90-day limit.

This distinction becomes important in the event of a probation violation. If you break another law while on probation for this charge, the judge could impose a probation violation and send you to jail. But you can't be placed in custody for longer than the maximum sentence of the offense of which you were convicted. With a wet reckless, your possible jail sentence is only half (if not a quarter) of what you'd face from a DUI charge.

  • Shorter probation period

The period that you are subject to "picking up" a probation violation is also reduced.  A California DUI typically carries a three- to five-year probationary period.  Probation for a California wet reckless charge usually only lasts one or two years. It's definitely better to have a shorter probationary period, because when you're on active probation it will show up on employer background checks. Also, you generally don't qualify to get the conviction expunged until probation has expired.

  • Lesser fines

The maximum fine for both a California wet reckless and a DUI is $1,000.  Throw in court-imposed "penalty assessments" and many people convicted of a DUI end up paying as much as $3000 in fines. However, the fines imposed in connection with a wet reckless are typically half or less of what you would pay if convicted of a California DUI.

  • No mandatory license suspension

A first time DUI conviction triggers the DMV to impose a six-month drivers license suspension, two years for a second offense and three years for a third offense.1 Even first time DUI convictions trigger a one-year "hard" suspension in the case of a chemical test refusal2 or underage driver with a DUI.  And someone caught driving on a suspended license in California faces a separate criminal charge, jail time and a probation violation.3

But a wet reckless conviction triggers no license suspension. This can be especially beneficial in a DUI with priors or refusal case, where the person faces at least a year of hard suspension. It should be noted, however, that the person could still receive a separate suspension if he loses his DMV hearing. Thus he must both get the DUI charge reduction in court and prevail at the DMV in order to escape the drivers license suspension altogether.

  • Shorter DUI school

A first wet reckless conviction may (but doesn't necessarily) include a six-week alcohol education program, whereas a California DUI conviction requires a minimum three-month program.

Under new 2009 legislation, if you are convicted of a "wet" and have another "wet" or DUI conviction within the last ten years, you must attend a nine-month alcohol program.  However, if you are convicted of a second or subsequent DUI, it will result in an 18 or 30 month class.

Additionally, a wet reckless conviction may not adversely affect certain professional licenses or commercial driver's licenses as would a DUI conviction.

3. What is the Downside to a Wet Reckless?

Unfortunately, there are a few areas where a wet reckless is treated the same as a California DUI.

  • The wet reckless will still count as a prior

If you get convicted of any subsequent DUIs within ten years of your "wet" conviction, that wet reckless conviction will count as a California DUI conviction and you will be sentenced as a repeat offender. The courts will treat it as prior DUI.

  • You may still lose your license

Although a wet reckless conviction doesn't trigger a license suspension, the California DMV will still impose one if

  1. your BAC was a 0.08% or above, and
  2. you lose your DMV hearing.
  • Your insurance company may treat your wet reckless like a DUI

Your insurance company may determine whether to cancel (or raise the premium of) your policy as if you were convicted of a DUI.

4. When is a California DUI Typically Reduced to Wet Reckless?

A prosecutor is most likely to reduce a DUI to a wet reckless under Vehicle Code 23103 per 23103.5 VC when

  1. your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is close to 0.08%, or
  2. there are some other weaknesses in the "People's" case against you, so
  3. the prosecutor would rather see you convicted of an offense than risk losing at trial.

Let me give you a couple of examples where wet reckless charges would be appropriately reduced from California DUI charges.

If you are a DUI "repeat offender", political pressure may prevent the prosecutor from plea bargaining your case down to a wet reckless charge.  However, procedural flaws in the DUI arrest/investigation and/or unique mitigating circumstances surrounding the offense may override that pressure.  For example:

  • The Orange County District Attorney charged Tony with his second California drunk driving.  But Tony's Orange County DUI lawyer was still able to secure a wet reckless because (1) the DUI breath testing instrument that reported Tony's BAC hadn't been properly calibrated according to its maintenance schedule, and (2) Tony's BAC was only a 0.08%.  This plea bargain spared Tony jail time, an 18-month DUI school and a 2-year drivers license suspension.

A wet reckless is by no means offered in every DUI case.  It is a benefit that must be bargained for by a skillful California drunk driving defense attorney.

Call us for help
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If you or loved one is charged with wet reckless DUI and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. 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 how to reduce a DUI to reckless driving in Nevada, see our article on how to reduce a DUI to reckless driving in Nevada.


1With the 6-month license suspension for a first-time DUI, you qualify to convert it to a restricted license right away. With the 2-year suspension, you can get a restricted license after the first year. With the 3-year suspension, you can get the restricted license after the first 18 months. A restricted license allows you to drive to and from work and DUI school. In order to convert from a suspended to a restricted license, you must (1) be enrolled in the relevant DUI school, (2) provide the DMV with an SR-22 showing proof of car insurance, and (3) pay a $125 reinstatement fee.

2See California Vehicle Code 23612 and 13353. Unlike non-refusal cases, a license suspension imposed due to a willful chemical test refusal does not quality for conversion to a restricted license.

3See California Vehicle Code 14601.2 and related sections. A conviction for driving while your license was suspended due to DUI carries a minimum 10 days and maximum 6 months jail time.

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