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

California "wet reckless" (Vehicle Code 23103 and 23103.5 VC) is a common plea bargain from California DUI.1 It is not a separate offense with which you can be charged in California.

If you bargain your California DUI charges down to a "wet reckless," what technially will happen is that you will be convicted of Vehicle Code 23103 VC "dry reckless". However, your record of conviction will note that alcohol and/or drugs were involved in the arrest that led to the conviction.2

Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC ["wet reckless" law] reads: "(a) If the prosecution agrees to a plea of guilty or nolo contendere to a charge of a violation of Section 23103 ["dry reckless"] in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of Section 23152 [California DUI], 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."

One main advantage of a "wet reckless" over a California DUI conviction is that you will not necessarily face a driver's license suspension. A "wet reckless" also involves a shorter potential jail sentence, lower fines and shorter probation.

But there are also disadvantages to a "wet reckless" plea bargain from DUI charges. A "wet reckless" is priorable like a DUI--meaning that if you are arrested for DUI again after a wet reckless conviction, you will face the same penalties as a repeat offender.

A "wet reckless" is also likely to be treated like a DUI by your car insurance company--which means higher premiums or even cancellation of your policy.

In this article, our California drunk driving defense lawyers will answer the following frequently asked questions about California "wet reckless" as a DUI plea bargain:

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

1. What is a VC 23103.5 "Wet Reckless"?

A California "wet reckless" is a very common charge reduction from a charge of California DUI (either VC 23152(a) driving under the influence or VC 23152(b) driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher).

A California wet reckless under Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC is unique because it's not a charge for which you can be arrested. In fact, it's not a separate crime at all.

Handcuffs-beside-car-keys-marijuana-symbol-and-alcohol-representing-DUI-and-wet-reckless
A VC 23103.5 "wet reckless" is actually a VC 23103 "dry reckless" with a notation that alcohol or drugs were involved in the arrest.

Basically, a wet reckless is a conviction for Vehicle Code 23103 VC "dry reckless"--but with a notation on your record of conviction that alcohol and/or drugs were involved in the arrest that led to the conviction.3

Although there are some definite advantages to a VC 23103.5 wet reckless as a DUI charge reduction, there are some definite drawbacks as well.

2. What are the Advantages of a Wet Reckless?

Many defendants want to know whether a "wet reckless" is a good plea bargain deal.

The answer is that it depends on the circumstances of your case--including whether you have prior DUIs on your record. (Each time you get convicted of a California DUI within a ten-year "look back" period, your potential penalties increase.This is what we mean when we say DUI is a "priorable" offense.)

Below are some of the advantages of a "wet reckless" charge reduction from DUI:

  • Shorter county jail sentence

The maximum county jail sentence for a California wet reckless is ninety (90) days.4 In contrast, California DUI carries a maximum six (6)-month jail sentence--which increases to a year for a second or third offense.5 

This distinction can make a big difference in the event of a probation violation. If you break another law while on probation for either wet reckless or DUI, 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.

Hands-on-bars-of-jail-cell
A wet reckless carries both a shorter minimum sentence and a shorter maximum sentence than many forms of DUI.
  • Less mandatory jail time if you have prior DUIs

In addition to a lower maximum jail sentence, wet reckless carries a lower minimum jail sentence than DUI for people have prior DUIs.

For example, a second time DUI requires a minimum of ninety (90) days in jail, and a third time DUI requires a minimum of one hundred twenty (120) days in jail.6 These are just the statutory minimum California DUI penalties--many counties impose more jail time for repeat offenders.

But a wet reckless conviction entails only minimum of five (5) days in jail-regardless of how many DUI priors the defendant has.7

According to Pasadena DUI defense attorney John Murray8

"Someone facing a  second or third time California DUI charge can potentially avoid several months in jail by getting the charge reduced down to a wet reckless. Thus, multiple offenders tend to benefit the most from a wet reckless plea bargain."

  • Shorter probation period for a wet reckless

A California DUI typically carries a three- to five-year probationary period. But 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 for a wet reckless

The theoretical maximum fine for either a California wet reckless or a DUI is one thousand dollars ($1,000).9 

Gavel-on-top-of-cash-representing-criminal-fines
A wet reckless charge reduction carries lower criminal fines than a typical DUI.

But 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 for a wet reckless plea bargain

The criminal penalties for a California DUI include a driver's license suspension--six (6) months for a first offender, two (2) years for a second DUI, and three (3) years for a third DUI.10

And even first time DUI convictions can trigger a one-year "hard" suspension (which means you cannot convert to a "restricted" license allowing you to drive to work and DUI school) in the case of a chemical test refusal11 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.12

But a wet reckless conviction does not necessarily trigger a driver's license suspension. This means that a wet reckless plea deal can be especially beneficial in a DUI with priors or chemical refusal case, where the person faces at least a year of hard suspension.

It should be noted, however, that the ultimate decision on whether a DUI suspect will lose his/her license is made at a DMV administrative hearing--not through the criminal court process.

So in order to avoid a license suspension, you must both get the DUI charge reduction to wet reckless in court and prevail at the California DMV.

California-drivers-license-marked-suspended
Bargaining a California DUI down to wet reckless may help you avoid a driver's license suspension.
  • Shorter DUI school

Another advantage of a wet reckless plea deal is that you will have a shorter mandatory 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.13

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--which means a wet reckless is still a better deal.14

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.15

Person-taking-field-sobriety-test-for-DUI
A "wet reckless" is still priorable just like a DUI.
  • You may still lose your license

As we discussed above, a wet reckless conviction doesn't necessarily trigger a license suspension, but the California DMV will still impose one if

  1. your blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.08% or above, and
  2. you lose your DMV administrative hearing.
  • Your auto insurance company may treat your wet reckless like a DUI

Your car insurance company may treat a wet reckless as if it were a DUI. That means that when your policy comes up for renewal, there is a good chance your insurance company will raise your premium or even cancel the policy altogether.

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

DUI-lawyers-at-conference-table
Your DUI attorney can help negotiate the best DUI plea bargain package, which may include a "wet reckless" plea deal.

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

  1. your measured BAC was close to 0.08%, or
  2. there are some other weaknesses in the prosecution's case against you.

In either such case, the prosecutor may be concerned about the risk of losing at trial and prefer the certainty of a wet reckless charge reduction plea deal.

ExampleThe Riverside District Attorney charges Mary with VC 23152(b) DUI after she is arrested for driving with 0.09% BAC.  

But Mary's DUI attorney is able to negotiate a charge reduction down to wet reckless because (1) Mary has no prior DUIs or other criminal history, (2) she was polite and cooperative with the California Highway Patrol officer during her DUI investigation, and (3) she had an otherwise "clean" driving record.

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.  

Example: The Orange County District Attorney charges Tony with his second California DUI.  

But Tony's DUI defense attorney is able to secure a plea bargain down to 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 wet reckless plea deal allows Tony to avoid 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.

On the other hand, in some cases a wet reckless may not be the best deal that you and a skilled DUI defense attorney can negotiate. Especially if you are charged with first-time DUI, it may be worth exploring the possibility of a plea bargain to "dry reckless" or "exhibition of speed."

Call us for help . . . 

DUI-defense-firm-call-center

If you or a loved one is charged with DUI and considering a plea bargain to "wet reckless," 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.

Additional Resources:

DMV Driver Safety Offices: Locations and Hours


Legal References

  1. Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC [California wet reckless]. ("(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.")  See also Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless. (" (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.")
  2. Same. 
  3. Same.
  4. Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless, endnote 1 above [these penalties apply to a wet reckless as well].
  5. Vehicle Code 23536, 23540, 23546 VC -- DUI penalties [do not apply to "wet reckless" charge reductions].
  6. Vehicle Code 23540 VC [penalties for 2nd-time DUIs]; Vehicle Code 23546 VC [penalties for 3rd-time DUIs; do not apply to "wet reckless" plea bargains]. 
  7. Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless, endnote 1 above [these penalties apply to a wet reckless as well].
  8. Pasadena DUI defense attorney John Murray is a leading expert in California DUI defense strategy, including plea bargain and charge reduction options like wet reckless and dry reckless. He has extensive experience both in the court systems of Los Angeles County and Ventura County and in California DMV hearings.
  9. Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless, endnote 1 above [these penalties apply to a wet reckless as well].
  10. With 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. See Vehicle Code 13352 VC -- Driver's license suspension for DUI; does not apply to "wet reckless" convictions.
  11. See Vehicle Code 23612 and 13353 VC. 
  12. Vehicle Code 14601.2 VC -- Driving on a suspended license [may be charged if you drive while your license is suspended after a DUI or wet reckless]. 
  13. Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC -- Wet reckless probation conditions. ("(e) Except as provided in paragraph (1) of subdivision (f), if the court places the defendant on probation for a conviction of Section 23103 that is required under this section to be a prior offense for purposes of Section 23540, 23546, 23550, 23560, 23566, or 23622, the court shall order the defendant to enroll in an alcohol and drug education program licensed under Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 11836) of Part 2 of Division 10.5 of the Health and Safety Code and complete, at a minimum, the educational component of that program, as a condition of probation. If compelling circumstances exist that mitigate against including the education component in the order, the court may make an affirmative finding to that effect. The court shall state the compelling circumstances and the affirmative finding on the record, and may, in these cases, exclude the educational component from the order.")
  14. Vehicle Code 23542 VC -- DUI second offense probation conditions [requirement of DUI school, for a longer period than what is required for wet reckless]; Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC, subsection (f) -- Wet reckless probation conditions.
  15. See, e.g., Vehicle Code 23540 VC -- DUI second offense penalties [specifying that a wet reckless prior will count as a DUI for subsequent DUI penalties].

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