Dry Reckless Plea Bargains in California DUI Cases


A dry reckless is a when a person charged with DUI agrees to plead to a reckless driving charge (not involving alcohol) under Vehicle Code 23103 VC. This is considered a favorable plea bargain in a DUI case because a dry reckless conviction entails less harsh consequences than a standard DUI conviction.

The penalties for a dry reckless generally include:

  • 1 to 5 years of misdemeanor probation,
  • up to 90 days of jail, and
  • fines of up to $1000 plus court costs.

The charges are generally reduced from the original charges of Vehicle Code 23152(a) driving under the influence or Vehicle Code 23152(b) driving with a BAC of 0.08 or above.1

A dry reckless charge reduction has several advantages over California DUI penalties. These include a shorter probation period, lower total fines and no mandatory driver's license suspension.2

A VC 23103 dry reckless is also a better deal than a so-called "wet reckless" DUI plea bargain. A "dry reckless" isn't priorable like a "wet reckless," so it won't increase your penalties if you are arrested for DUI again in the future.3

In this article, our California DUI lawyers will answer the following frequently asked questions about VC 23103 "dry reckless" plea bargains:

If after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. What are the advantages of a dry reckless over a DUI conviction?

The term "dry reckless" is used to describe a situation where defendants charged with California DUI plea bargain the charges down to Vehicle Code 23103 VC reckless driving, without any indication on the record that alcohol or drugs were involved in the arrest.

"Reckless driving" is defined as driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other people or property.4     

A California dry reckless plea bargain/charge reduction has significant advantages over a California DUI.  These include:

  • No mandatory sentencing enhancements for repeat dry reckless offenders

Unlike a California DUI, the sentence for a dry reckless does not automatically increase with each subsequent conviction.5

While it is true that a judge may sentence you more harshly if you are repeatedly convicted of reckless driving, there is no mandatory requirement for doing so like there is with multiple DUI convictions.6

  • Shorter county jail sentence

Under Vehicle Code 23103 VC, a dry reckless plea deal only subjects you to a maximum of ninety (90) days in county jail.  By contrast, a California DUI carries a maximum six (6)-month sentence (which increases to one (1) year for a second or third offense).7

This distinction is particularly important in the event that you suffer a probation violation. Ninety days will be the absolute limit that you can be sentenced to for the dry reckless charge, which is half (if not a quarter) of what you'd face for a probation violation after a DUI conviction.

  • Shorter probation period

Probation for a dry reckless conviction typically lasts only one or two years. In contrast, probation for a California DUI typically lasts between three and five years.

This advantage (like the one stated above) becomes critical in the event that you unfortunately get arrested for another crime, such as another DUI or driving with a suspended license in California. If your probation has expired, it follows that you can't be sentenced for a probation violation.

  • A reduced fine

In theory, the maximum fine for both a VC 23103 California dry reckless and a California DUI is one thousand dollars ($1,000).8

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 dry reckless are typically half or less of what you would pay if convicted of a California DUI.

Plus, the mandatory minimum fine for the dry reckless charge reduction is only $145, whereas the DUI is $390.9 

  • No mandatory court-ordered license suspension

A California DUI conviction triggers a six-month driver's license suspension--and this period gets longer if the person has prior DUI or wet reckless convictions (though the DMV may allow the defendant to continue driving with an ignition interlock device).10

But a dry reckless plea deal under California Vehicle Code 23103 VC does not trigger a license suspension. (It does, however, add 2 points to your driving record, which could contribute to a negligent operator license suspension.11)

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 your DUI charges reduced to dry reckless in court and prevail at the California DMV.

  • No DUI school or, at the most, a six-week program

A California DUI conviction mandates that you complete a minimum three-month alcohol education program--18 months for multiple offenders. There is no such requirement with a dry reckless conviction.12

However, as part of a negotiated dry reckless plea bargain, the prosecutor and/or judge may require that you participate in a six-week program.

2. Why is a "dry reckless" better than a "wet reckless"?

A California "wet reckless," VC 23103 per VC 23103.5, is another common plea bargain from California DUI charges.

With a wet reckless, you plead guilty to VC 23103 reckless driving, just as you would with a California dry reckless. However, your record of conviction will also contain a notation that alcohol and/or drugs were involved in your arrest.13

According to Beverly Hills DUI defense attorney John Murray14:

"A wet reckless can be thought of as the 'first level' of DUI plea bargaining in California. It is usually the first plea deal that a prosecutor will offer in a DUI case. But a dry reckless has several important advantages over a wet reckless. If the prosecutor offers you a wet reckless plea bargain as a starting point for negotiations, it may be worth trying to negotiate them down further to a dry reckless."

The main advantages of a dry reckless over a wet reckless are:

  • A dry reckless under California Vehicle Code 23103 VC isn't "priorable"

California DUIs and wet reckless convictions are both priorable offenses. This means that if you have a conviction for either offense, and then have the misfortune of being convicted of a second or subsequent DUI within a ten-year period, your penalties will increase exponentially.15

A California dry reckless is NOT priorable, though--an advantage it shares with Vehicle Code 23109(c) exhibition of speed, another common DUI plea bargain. If you have a dry reckless conviction on your record, and subsequently get convicted of a DUI, you will still be sentenced as a first-time DUI offender.

  • Insurance companies "prefer" a reckless driving conviction

Unlike a California wet reckless or California DUI conviction, a dry reckless driving conviction will not typically lead to a cancellation of your auto insurance policy or cause your premium to skyrocket.

It should also be noted that a California dry reckless won't invite the same scrutiny that a DUI or "wet" reckless would with respect to professional or commercial licenses. This is because a dry reckless conviction is simply recorded as misdemeanor reckless driving. Unlike a California wet reckless conviction, there is no automatic association with a DUI.

3. When do prosecutors agree to reduce a DUI to a wet or dry reckless?

Because a California dry reckless isn't a "priorable" offense, prosecutors often hesitate to offer it as a DUI reduction. They prefer a priorable wet reckless.

That said, a prosecutor is most likely to agree to a dry reckless reduction when:

  1. Y our BAC was close to 0.08%; and
  2. There are serious flaws with the prosecution's evidence against you.

Example: Sally is arrested by the Long Beach Police Department for DUI. Her blood test comes back as a .10% BAC.  

But Sally's DUI defense lawyer orders a retesting of the blood--which reveals that the original vial contained an insufficient amount of preservative. Her attorney also points out that her blood was drawn nearly two hours after her DUI investigation began. Plus, Sally has an otherwise spotless driving history and no criminal record.

As a result, her attorney is able to negotiate a plea bargain to VC 23103 dry reckless.

Example: Rick is arrested in Beverly Hills for DUI.  Although he is very polite to the officer conducting his DUI investigation, Rick refuses a chemical test. This would normally invite an enhanced sentence in a DUI case.

But the arresting officer, who testifies at a pretrial motion, isn't articulate or credible enough to convince a reasonable jury that Rick was DUI without a corroborating blood or breath sample. So Rick and his attorney are able to negotiate the DUI charges down to a dry reckless.

Call us for help . . . 


If you or a loved one is charged with DUI and interested in learning more about "dry reckless" plea bargains, 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.

Legal References:

  1. 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 VC or 23105 VC.")
  2. Compare same with Vehicle Code 23536, 23540, 23546 VC - DUI penalties.
  3. See, e.g., Vehicle Code 23540 VC -- DUI second offense penalties [specifying that a wet reckless but not a dry reckless prior will count as a DUI for subsequent DUI penalties].
  4. Vehicle Code 23103 VC -- Dry reckless, endnote 1 above.
  5. Compare same with Vehicle Code 23536, 23540, 23546 VC - DUI penalties [which do not apply to "dry reckless" charge reductions].
  6. Same.
  7. Compare Vehicle Code 23103 VC - Dry reckless, endnote 1 above, with Vehicle Code 23536, 23540, 23546 VC -- DUI penalties [which do not apply to "dry reckless" charge reductions].
  8. Same.
  9. Same.
  10. See Vehicle Code 13352 VC - Driver's license suspension for DUI; California Senate Bill 1046 (2018).
  11. Vehicle Code 12810 VC - Traffic points.
  12. E.g., Vehicle Code 23538 VC -- Probation requirements for DUI convictions.
  13. Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC - Wet reckless.
  14. Beverly Hills 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.
  15. See, e.g., Vehicle Code 23540 VC -- DUI second offense penalties.


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