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What’s the Difference Between “Wet Reckless” and DUI in California?

Getting pulled over after a night out is many people’s worst nightmare. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone who gets a DUI is blackout drunk—you only need to be over the legal limit or under the influence to the point that it affects your ability to drive as a sober person would. In either case, the consequences are still the same—license suspension, a misdemeanor conviction, jail time, fines and fees, and a permanent blemish on your driving record.

While dealing with a DUI case is hard on anyone, there are ways to mitigate the penalties. Through a plea agreement, you can sometimes reduce the charge to what is known as “wet reckless driving.” Wet reckless is not a charge within itself; instead, it’s a plea deal that reduces the DUI to reckless driving with a notation that alcohol is involved, hence the term “wet” reckless.

At The Nieves Law Firm, we’ve successfully fought these types of cases for years. And in certain instances, negotiated reduced “wet reckless” pleas when the evidence allowed. Understanding key legal differences means smarter planning your best path ahead. Let’s break things down step-by-step.

It should also be noted that it is also possible to reduce a DUI down even further to a simple “reckless driving” without the “wet” finding so that it would be considered a “dry reckless.” A dry reckless is essentially bad driving that does not involve alcohol.

California DUI Laws and Penalties

Per California Vehicle Code 23152, driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher constitutes intoxicated driving. It does not matter if you feel drunk. Driving under the influence charges are administered only on the basis of your field sobriety test.

While everyone’s body processes alcohol differently, the legal guidelines currently make it so that you can get a DUI after just a few drinks if you don’t wait long enough before driving home.

Apart from suspended licenses, traditional first-time DUI convictions often lead to:

  • 5-10 months license revocation
  • Up to 6 months jail time
  • $1000 fines plus penalty assessments
  • Lengthy DUI classes
  • 3-5 years probation

These stiff fines and restrictions aim to curb dangerous impaired driving. But for some minimally over-the-limit cases, plea bargaining a lesser wet reckless charge or taking the matter to trial serves justice better.

Wet and Reckless Plea and How it Works

California prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys can negotiate various resolutions for first-time DUI offenses, including but not limited to wet reckless pleas. In these situations, the accused will admit to reckless driving.

They will also admit that alcohol was involved. While it sounds the same, wet reckless charges are better than a DUI because the penalties are not as harsh.

The penalties for reckless driving lead to:

  • Up to 90 days in jail
  • $1,000 in fines plus penalties and assessments
  • Shorter DUI classes (usually a 12-hour class)
  • No automatic suspension on your license after conviction

Keep in mind, a wet reckless is a priorable offense. Although the penalties are lighter the conviction can still be treated as a “prior DUI” if you were to obtain another DUI in the future. DUIs with Prior Offenses are treated more harshly and have more severe penalties such as lengthier license suspensions, lengthier jail time sentence exposure, and DUI schools that last upwards of 18 months.

People accused of a DUI should always consider how the matter will impact their career, personal life, ability to drive, and future before entering a plea.

  • Some jobs requiring driving or transportation often deny applicants with DUI records.
  • A DUI conviction can result in increased insurance premiums in order to be insured with SR-22 coverage.
  • Non-citizens can face immigration consequences based on DUI offenses, such as loss of DACA status or even raised public safety concerns due to substance abuse.

When Can You Plead Down to Wet Reckless Driving After a DUI?

Several mitigating factors allow for wet reckless pleas during DUI proceedings:

  • Blood or breath test results showing borderline illegal BAC levels near 0.08%
  • First-time offenses with no priors
  • Minimal vehicle swerving or errors during initial pull-over
  • No related aggravated circumstances like accidents or injuries

On the other hand, aggravating scenarios include:

  • BAC levels well over 0.15%
  • Multiple prior DUI arrests
  • Extreme impairment signs observed before breath testing
  • Belligerent behavior toward patrol officers
  • Hitting objects, driving erratically to prompt stop
  • Injuries to others

Our experienced DUI defense team assesses case specifics to determine the best points to argue to target a lesser-included DUI offense. Clients also have the option of going to trial if an offer is made that they do not want. The less supporting evidence officers have against you, the better. It takes strategic negotiation and motion-filing skills to see movement in an offer on a sticky case.

Don’t try to navigate your drunk driving charges alone. An experienced DUI attorney will be able to skillfully walk you through the experience, explaining your options and making recommendations that are in your best interest.

Contact the Nieves Law Firm for a case review. Together, we will examine what happened and help you make choices with your goals in mind. While being charged with a DUI is frightening, you do not have to be alone in the fight.

Author Bio

Grace Goodman is a lawyer at The Nieves Law Firm, having joined the firm as an attorney in January 2021. Grace has been immersed in the world of law since she was a child, becoming the family’s fourth generation lawyer when she passed the bar in 2021. Grace handles a variety of cases at the firm, representing those facing criminal charges, pursuing post-conviction relief, and filing or contesting restraining orders.

Grace obtained her J.D. from U.C. Hastings College of Law and is a member of California State Bar.  With her immense knowledge of the justice system, Grace feverishly studies the criminal justice system in her spare time to stay up to date on changes within the legal system.

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