Wet reckless (often called “wet and reckless“) is the crime that California prosecutors reduce a misdemeanor DUI charge down to as part of a plea agreement. Wet reckless is simply a nickname for a reckless driving (Vehicle Code 23103) charge that includes a note on your criminal record that the offense involved alcohol and/or drug use.1
A wet reckless conviction is preferable to a DUI conviction because it carries lesser penalties, including no mandatory driver’s license suspension. However a wet reckless conviction is priorable, which means if you get convicted of a DUI within the next 10 years (California’s DUI “lookback” period), you will be considered a repeat offender and punished more harshly.2
To help you better understand wet reckless plea bargains in DUI cases, our California DUI lawyers discuss the following:
- 1. Difference between wet reckless and DUI
- 2. Ten benefits of wet reckless plea deal
- 3. Five downsides of wet reckless plea deal
- 4. When plea bargains are offered in DUI cases
Wet reckless is a California criminal charge commonly offered as a plea bargain to either:
- driving under the influence of alcohol (VC 23152(a)), or
- driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher (VC 23152(b)).
You cannot get arrested for wet reckless. It is simply a nickname for a reckless driving conviction that:
- Results from a DUI plea bargain, and
- Includes a notation indicating there was alcohol and/or drug use.
Firstly, a wet reckless conviction contains a note that alcohol or drugs were involved in the offense. A dry reckless one does not.
Secondly, a wet reckless conviction does not necessarily indicate that your driving was reckless. A dry reckless one does.
Finally – and most importantly – a wet reckless is a “priorable” offense in California. This means that if you are convicted within the next 10 years of another driving offense involving alcohol and/or drugs, you will face increased penalties as a repeat offender. A “dry” conviction is not priorable.3
Once you, the prosecutor and the court agree to a wet reckless plea deal, you may plead guilty (or “nolo contendere,” which means no contest) to reckless driving. The court will then dismiss the DUI charges and notify the California DMV.4
In California, ten advantages of a wet reckless charge reduction from DUI are:
- A shorter jail sentence – The maximum jail sentence for wet reckless is 90 days as opposed to six months for a DUI-1st or one year for a DUI-2nd or DUI-3rd.5
- Less mandatory jail time if you have prior DUIs – The minimum wet reckless sentence is five days as opposed to 90 days for a DUI-2nd or 120 days for a DUI 3rd.6
- Shorter probation period – Probation for wet reckless is one-to-two years as opposed to three-to-five years for DUI. Once you finish probation, you no longer risk getting remanded to jail for a probation violation. You can also finally get your record expunged so it will no longer show up on your background check.7
- Lower fines – The theoretical maximum fine for either a wet reckless or DUI is $1,000. Though once court-imposed “penalty assessments” get added, a DUI can end up being as much as $3,000.8
- No mandatory court-ordered license suspension – A wet reckless conviction does not trigger an automatic driver’s license suspension (though the court may order an ignition interlock device (IID) for usually three-to-six months). In contrast, there is a mandatory suspension of six months for a DUI-1st, two years for a DUI-2nd, and three years for a DUI-3rd.9
- Shorter DUI school – A first-time wet reckless carries a six-week alcohol education program as opposed to the minimum three-month program after a DUI conviction. The program for wet reckless increases to nine months if you have a prior “wet” or DUI conviction within the last ten years. Though this is still less than the 18- or 30-month DUI school that is required following a DUI-2nd.10
- Potentially less impact on a professional license – A wet reckless often has fewer adverse effects on a professional license than a DUI does. A DUI can trigger a California professional license hearing if it is “substantially related” to your job.11
- No mandatory installation of an IID – Repeat DUIs carry a mandatory IID installation whereas with wet reckless, IIDs are at the court’s discretion.12
- No mandatory CDL suspension – Unlike a DUI conviction, a wet reckless conviction by itself will not trigger a mandatory suspension of your commercial driver’s license.13
- Less social stigma – A wet reckless simply sounds better than a DUI to employers, landlords, universities, and creditors.
There are five areas in which a wet reckless offers no advantages in California:
- A wet reckless counts as a “prior” – So if you pick up a new DUI in the future, you will be prosecuted as a repeat DUI offender. DUI is usually a misdemeanor, though a fourth-time DUI in 10 years can be a felony.14
- Your driving record is affected – A wet reckless adds two points to your DMV record, and 3.5 points if you were in a commercial vehicle. If you accumulate a certain number of points, you will be designated a negligent operator and have your license suspended.15
- Liability insurers treat a wet reckless like a DUI – Consequently, you will still see a hike in your premium rates or possibly have your policy cancelled.
- Wet reckless shows up on background checks – Therefore, a potential employer will see it and can ask about it after making a conditional offer of employment.
- Your driver’s license can still be suspended by the California DMV – Let’s take a closer look at this last point below.
Although a wet reckless conviction does not trigger a mandatory court-ordered license suspension as a criminal penalty, the DMV will administratively suspend your driver’s license after a DUI arrest. The DMV case is entirely separate from the criminal case.
You can attempt to save your license by requesting a DMV “administrative per se” (APS) hearing within 10 days of your arrest. Even if you lose this hearing, however, the DMV may allow you to continue driving with an IID (usually for four months after a DUI-1st, and for one year after a DUI-2nd).16
A prosecutor is most likely to reduce a DUI to a wet reckless when there are the following mitigating circumstances:
- Your BAC was under or close to 0.08%;
- You do not have a significant history of drug- and/or alcohol-related offenses;
- There are weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, such as the police made procedural mistakes during your DUI investigation and arrest; and/or
- You were polite and cooperative with the California Highway Patrol or other arresting officers.
Note that a wet reckless is by no means offered in every DUI case. It is a benefit that usually must be bargained for.
It might also not be the best deal that an experienced California DUI lawyer can negotiate. For instance, we may be able to negotiate a dry reckless or even an exhibition of speed as a DUI plea bargain.
- California Department of Motor Vehicles – Includes publications about driving offenses and penalties and offers full text to the California Vehicle Code.
- Court-Approved DUI Alcohol Programs – A state-wide listing of court-approved DUI alcohol programs broken down by city.
- Ignition Interlock Device List – List of approved providers of breath interlock devices for your car to allow you to drive while serving your license suspension.
- California Victim Impact Panels – Directory of panels provided by MADD.
- DMV Suspended License Reinstatement – How to do it – Step-by-step guide by our California DUI defense attorneys.
- California Vehicle Code 23103.5(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, for example, People v. Yushchuk (Cal.App. 2018) ; People v. Hicks (2017) 4 Cal. 5th 203.
- Vehicle Code 23103.5 (c), Vehicle Code 23103 (c), California Senate Bill 1046 (2018), Vehicle Code 23103.5 (c), Vehicle Code sections 23536, Vehicle Code 23540 VC, and 23546 VC.
- Same. Vehicle Code 23103.5 (c).
- Vehicle Code 23103.5 (d). Vehicle Code 23103.5 (c). See also Vehicle Code 23103.5.
- Vehicle Code 23103(c).
- Vehicle Code 23540 VC, Vehicle Code 23546 VC, Vehicle Code 23103.5 (c).
- Penal Code 1203.2 PC, Penal Code 1203.1 PC. See Vehicle Code 23600 VC.
- Vehicle Code 23103 VC, Vehicle Code 23536 VC. The minimum wet reckless fine is $145.
- Vehicle Code 13352 VC.
- Vehicle Code 23103.5(e), Vehicle Code 23538(b), Vehicle Code 23103.5(f)(1), Vehicle Code 23542 VC.
- See Government Code 11500 and subsequent sections.
- Vehicle Code 23103.5(g), Vehicle Code 23103(c).
- Vehicle Code 15300 VC.
- Vehicle Code 23103.5 (c). See, for example, Vehicle Code 23540 VC.
- See California Department of Motor Vehicles, “Negligent Operator Actions.”
- Vehicle Code 13352 VC.