California’s DUI laws can be complex and confusing. In this section, our attorneys break down the rules and explain the process.
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The most common way to get a charge of driving under the influence (DUI) dropped to a charge for reckless driving is through a plea deal. However, raising strong legal defenses against the DUI charge can also persuade prosecutors to reduce the charges. In either case, hiring a DUI-defense lawyer is the best way to get these serious charges reduced.
The 2 most common ways for people charged with DUI to get it dropped to a charge for reckless driving are to:
These strategies are interrelated. Generally, presenting a strong legal defense to the DUI can convince the prosecutor to offer a more generous plea deal, including one that involves a guilty plea to reckless driving.
A DUI-defense attorney can help defendants pursue either option.
Some defendants can get a DUI charge reduced to one for reckless driving by pleading guilty to the lesser charge. The defendant pleads guilty to reckless driving and waives his or her right to a trial. In exchange, the prosecutor drops the DUI allegation.
This type of plea deal is known as charge bargaining. Both law enforcement and the court system use charge bargaining to save their resources by expediting the criminal justice process. Many defendants use charge bargaining to avoid the potential for a serious criminal conviction, like DUI. Rather than taking the risk of a severe conviction, defendants accept a lesser conviction, instead.
Defendants facing a DUI charge are more likely to get it reduced to one for reckless driving if they:
Any plea deal would come through the plea bargaining process. This is a negotiation between the prosecutor and the defendant, typically through the defendant’s criminal defense attorney. Plea deals can be struck at any time, from before the arraignment, right up to trial.
Any plea agreement that is reached has to be approved by the judge.
In some cases, accepting a plea deal that drops the DUI charge to one for reckless driving is a good idea. In other cases, it is not. If the defendant has strong legal defenses to the DUI and stands a good chance at an acquittal, pleading guilty to reckless driving might not be a good move.
A criminal defense lawyer can help defendants make this difficult decision.
A similar strategy to get a DUI charge reduced to reckless driving is to raise strong legal defenses to the accusation of drunk driving. By presenting evidence that shows how hard it would be to secure a DUI conviction, defendants can convince prosecutors to reduce the charge.
Some common legal defenses used for this purpose include:
If the evidence to support one of these defenses is strong, it can make the prosecutor doubt his or her ability to secure a conviction. Rather than continuing to pursue a DUI charge, they may drop or reduce it to a charge for reckless driving.
Getting the legal advice of an attorney who understands your state’s DUI law is the best way to know if there are serious legal issues in the case against you.
A “wet reckless” is an informal name for pleading guilty to reckless driving as a part of a plea deal that drops the DUI charge. The “wet” aspect refers to the fact that the conviction stemmed from a DUI case. In many states, the repercussions of a “wet reckless” are more severe than a “dry reckless.” However, they are still less severe than for a DUI conviction.
In many states, wet reckless convictions can be used as priorable DUI offenses. This means that, if a driver is charged for a first-offense DUI and pleads guilty to a wet reckless, a subsequent DUI charge would still be filed as a second-offense DUI.
Different states have different penalties for DUI, wet reckless charges, and for reckless driving. Additionally, DUIs are priorable offenses – the penalties for a conviction increase if the defendant has prior offenses in their criminal history.
An example of the differing penalties for these 3 types of convictions is in Florida.
There, a first-time DUI conviction is generally a first-degree misdemeanor.1 A conviction carries:
A wet reckless conviction, however, carries the following penalties:
The penalties for a basic, dry reckless conviction are:
Many other states are like Florida. The court actions against the defendant’s driver’s license disappear if the charge is reduced from a DUI to a wet reckless. The DUI-related penalties disappear if the charge is further reduced to a regular reckless driving offense.
Establishing an attorney-client relationship with a DUI attorney from a reputable law firm is the best way to handle these criminal charges.
In California, DUI defendants can get their case dropped to reckless driving. Plea deals for both wet reckless and dry reckless are possible, depending on the case. These deals can substantially reduce the potential penalties for a conviction. However, pleading guilty gives up the defendant’s right to challenge the case in court.
In California, a first-time DUI offense is usually a misdemeanor.3 Penalties of a conviction include:
Reducing the charge to a wet reckless in California involves:
The penalties that come with a wet reckless plea deal include:
Unlike for a DUI conviction, the penalties do not include:
However, the conviction does put a reckless driving conviction on the driver’s criminal record. This entry will include a note that the offense involved alcohol or drugs.5 That note will be used to make the wet reckless a priorable offense, if the defendant gets charged with DUI within the next 10 years.6
In some cases, California car insurance companies still see a wet reckless and treat it as a DUI. This can lead to an increase in insurance premiums. Some drivers may even find that they will be dropped by their auto insurance company, entirely.
Additionally, drivers who plead guilty to a wet reckless will still have to contend with the original DUI charge’s “administrative per se” hearing at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This can lead to an administrative license suspension.
Getting a DUI case dropped to a dry reckless is often the best outcome. The penalties for a dry reckless include:
Dry reckless convictions do not come with:
They also cannot be used as a prior offense for a subsequent DUI charge.
A DUI lawyer can help drivers make informed decisions about how to proceed after a DUI arrest.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.