In California, motorists charged with driving under the influence may plead to a lesser charge known as “wet reckless” — or driving recklessly with the involvement of alcohol. In most cases, drivers who agree to a wet reckless plea can expect lighter punishments and fewer obligations than with a DUI.
Pleading to Wet Reckless in California
Under the California Vehicle Code, DUI defendants can enter a plea of “nolo contendere,” or no contest, for reckless driving with the involvement of alcohol. Such a plea means that the defendant will accept the punishment but does not deny or accept responsibility for the accused crime.
Because of public anger regarding intoxicated driving, prosecutors only allow wet reckless pleas in some cases, usually first offenses in which a driver’s blood-alcohol content is at or below 0.08 percent, the legal threshold for impaired driving. Wet reckless pleas also typically are allowed only if the defendant did not cause injuries or property damage.
Following a successful wet reckless plea, a defendant must not have another conviction for drunk driving within the next decade. For the purpose of sentencing, the courts often view a wet reckless plea as a prior conviction of drunk driving. Sentencing in such cases usually will be in line with a second conviction for DUI.
Because of the legal intricacies involved, defendants charged with DUI should work with an experienced defense attorney to enter a wet reckless plea.
Penalties for a Wet Reckless Plea
A wet reckless plea does not include mandatory jail time, and the maximum incarceration time is 90 days. Penalties for a DUI, on the other hand, can vary depending on the number of prior convictions. With repeated offenses, penalties become harsher. A first DUI can result in probation for several years along with a fine and lost driving privileges for at least six months. In addition, a DUI conviction can result in a requirement for jail time and alcohol-education classes. Penalties increase with a higher number of convictions, and judges can order more-severe penalties even for a first-time offender.
A wet reckless plea typically results in a one- to two-year probationary period, compared to three to five years for a DUI. A conviction for wet reckless also usually requires completion of 12 hours in an alcohol education program. An experienced defense attorney often can work with defendants to have a wet reckless conviction expunged after completion of the sentence.
However, if you plead to wet reckless, your insurance rates may increase significantly — in some cases even more than for a DUI conviction, because reckless drivers tend to be involved in a higher number of accidents. On your criminal record, a wet reckless charge counts as a DUI, and insurance companies view it that way.
Obligations Under State Law
California’s Department of Health Care Services monitors compliance for the state’s DUI programs, including wet reckless convictions.
As part of the department’s Wet Reckless Program, anyone convicted of the offense of reckless driving while a “measurable amount” of alcohol is in their blood must successfully complete a drug and alcohol education program of 12 hours.
For comparison, the department’s First Offender Program for DUI includes:
A program of three, six or nine months depending on a defendant’s blood-alcohol content. Each of the programs includes 12 hours in an alcohol and drug education program along with at least 10 to 44 hours in group counseling and individual counseling sessions. Counties also may require extra hours of counseling.
The program for subsequent offenders is known as the 18-Month Program and includes:
- Group counseling of 52 hours.
- Individual interviews every other week.
- Six hours of “community reentry monitoring.”
- Twelve hours of education on the effects of drugs and alcohol.
- A program length of 18 months.
In addition, counties may order DUI programs lasting 30 months for offenders with three or more convictions. The 30-month program also includes 12 hours of education along with group counseling lasting 78 hours, as many as 300 community service hours, and individual interviews.
A defendant convicted of a wet reckless should be aware that subsequent DUI convictions can result in harsher penalties and the increased obligations outlined by the Department of Health Care Services. The state requires anyone convicted of DUI to complete these programs to regain driving privileges, at the discretion of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Work with an Experienced DUI Attorney
If you’re charged with DUI, a wet reckless plea can serve as a viable way to reduce your penalties and obligations in California. To ensure that you understand the law and that your rights are protected, work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Lance Daniel, Attorney at Law, to schedule your free consultation.