Does California Permit Wet Reckless Plea Bargains for DUI?

  • Post last modified:July 9, 2024

When someone has never before been charged with a crime, a first arrest for driving under the influence can be quite frightening. When you are charged with first-offense DUI, you could lose your driver’s license, lose your job, or even go to jail if you don’t act wisely and immediately. In southern California, suspects charged with DUI will probably be offered a plea bargain, and those suspects will need the counsel of an experienced Long Beach DUI attorney to help them evaluate that plea bargain and to help them consider accepting or rejecting it.

A plea bargain is a settlement of a case that is negotiated between a criminal defense attorney and a prosecutor. In a plea bargain arrangement, a defendant will know what the sentence is going to be before the defendant pleads guilty. Depending on the details of the case, the defense attorney’s goal might be to negotiate for a reduced sentence, for a reduced charge, or sometimes for both.


If you are accused of driving under the influence in the state of California, it is important for you to know – and to understand – what a “wet reckless” charge and a plea bargain is. The police do not charge drivers with wet reckless, and nothing in California law allows them to. Wet reckless is the exclusive possession of the state’s prosecutors. It is a charge that has been created to persuade driving under the influence defendants to accept a plea bargain and to move DUI cases more swiftly through the system. A wet reckless conviction generally means fewer penalties, fewer obligations, and fewer expenses than a conviction for driving under the influence.


The California Vehicle Code allows a DUI defendant to plead nolo contendere (“no contest”) to reckless driving along with a notation that alcohol was involved (hence the term “wet”). This plea bargain is not offered to every DUI suspect, because prosecutors are choosy about offering such plea bargains. The wet reckless plea bargain offer is typically made only to first-time driving under the influence suspects when the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level was borderline (right at the 0.08 percent legal limit) and when there was no property damage or personal injury.

Particularly when the DUI evidence against a driver is undeniable and a conviction is probable if there’s a trial, pleading nolo contendere to a wet reckless charge may be a defendant’s best choice. A wet reckless plea bargain usually means no jail, a lesser fine, and less time in court-ordered DUI classes. A driving under the influence conviction is also an employment barrier for some jobs, so taking the wet reckless plea bargain allows DUI defendants to avoid DUI-related employment difficulties.


The wet reckless plea bargain can help a DUI defendant stay out of jail and keep his or her job, but what a wet reckless plea bargain cannot do is also important to consider. The defendant’s driver’s license may still be temporarily suspended by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the defendant’s automobile insurance rates are also certain to climb. A DUI lawyer might be able to help a defendant retain his or her driver’s license – after a driving under the influence arrest, a defendant has only ten days to request a DMV hearing to challenge the impending license suspension – but a lawyer can’t help with anyone’s insurance premiums.


A wet reckless conviction does not require any mandatory jail time, although a California judge has the discretion to sentence an offender to up to ninety days in jail. Probation for a wet reckless conviction is typically one or two years, compared to three to five years of probation for a DUI conviction. A wet reckless conviction can usually be expunged after the sentence has been completed. Also be aware that if someone faces any alcohol-related driving charge in the first ten years after accepting a wet reckless plea bargain, the wet reckless conviction will count as a prior DUI conviction, and the charge will be handled as a second DUI offense.

Anyone arrested and charged with driving under the influence is in serious legal trouble, even if it’s a first offense. If a DUI defendant misses a court date or drives on a suspended license, it can make things worse very quickly. The first thing a driving under the influence suspect in southern California must do is speak to a Long Beach DUI attorney. An attorney can request a driver’s license hearing with the California Department of Motor Vehicles and accompany a defendant to the first court date on the DUI charge itself.


Driving under the influence defendants frequently do not want to accept a plea bargain when they genuinely believe that they are innocent. Before accepting or rejecting any plea bargain, a DUI defendant should carefully review the offer with a good DUI defense lawyer to make certain that he or she fully understands all of the agreement’s terms, conditions, and consequences.


If a DUI suspect is not offered a wet reckless plea bargain – or chooses to reject the offer – the penalties for a first-offense DUI conviction in California will depend on the details of the case. A driver arrested with a 0.20 percent blood alcohol content level will face stiffer punishment than a driver who was slightly over the limit. A DUI charge can also be enhanced by speeding, causing an accident with injuries, or having children in the vehicle, and if the charge is enhanced, a suspect probably will not be offered a wet reckless plea bargain (although some other plea offer is likely).

In some rare cases, and usually after negotiations with a good DUI attorney, a prosecutor might offer a “dry” reckless plea bargain. A dry reckless (or “simple” reckless) conviction does not count as a DUI on a defendant’s criminal record, and it usually does not trigger an insurance rate increase. A dry reckless conviction puts two points on your driver’s license, but when driving under the influence is the original charge, a dry reckless plea bargain, and conviction can be considered a very good result.


Of course, all of this legal trouble can be avoided when drivers follow one rule – don’t drink and drive. In Southern California, rides for hire are everywhere – taxis, rideshare services, limos, courtesy vans, and more – and most of these services are available 24 hours a day. Yes, a ride will cost a few dollars, but that’s a lot less than the cost of a ride to the jail, the emergency room, or the morgue. If you are charged with DUI, a good DUI lawyer can help, but there is genuinely no excuse for driving under the influence in Southern California.