Plea Bargaining in DUI Cases for a “Wet Reckless”

In some DUI cases, the defendant can make a plea deal to reduce the drunk driving charge to a reckless driving violation.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

In some DUI (driving under the influence) cases, the accused motorist will have some legitimate defenses for fighting the charges. Depending on the situation, it might even make sense to take the case to trial.

But in the majority of DUI cases, the facts are fairly straightforward and there aren't any defenses that are likely to succeed in getting the charges dropped. These types of cases typically get resolved through "plea bargaining," making a deal with the prosecution.

Plea bargaining in DUI cases normally involves haggling over the specific penalties. But in some cases, the defendant might be able to get the DUI charge reduced to a reckless driving charge. In this context, a reckless driving charge is sometimes called a "wet reckless."

What are the Benefits of a Wet Reckless Plea Deal?

The best-case scenario for a defendant is getting the charges dismissed altogether. But in most cases, plea bargaining isn't going to result in a complete dismissal. When there's evidence supporting a DUI charge, prosecutors are reluctant (to say the least) to just let it slide.

Realistically, a wet reckless plea deal is about as good as it gets with DUI plea bargaining. So what are the benefits for the defendant of making a wet reckless plea bargain?

Fines and jail time. The DUI laws of every state are different. But, generally, reckless driving carries less severe penalties than a DUI charge. Both offenses are normally classified as misdemeanors. However, someone who pleads to a wet reckless can typically expect less jail time and lower fines than they'd face for a DUI charge.

License suspension. For many people, the worst part of a DUI conviction is the loss of driving privileges. DUI convictions generally carry at least some period of mandatory license suspension. With reckless driving convictions, license suspension isn't always required, and when it is, the minimum suspension period is generally shorter than it would be for a DUI conviction.

Counting prior DUI convictions. DUI penalties are generally structured around the number of prior convictions. In other words, the penalties become increasingly more severe with an increasing number of prior DUI convictions. The laws of some states specify that wet reckless convictions qualify as DUI priors. But in other states, a wet reckless offense won't count as a DUI prior conviction should the driver be convicted of a DUI in the future.

Traffic violation demerit points. Most states have traffic violation point systems. With these systems, traffic violations are assigned a certain number of points. Drivers who accumulate too many points can face consequences such as license suspension or having to complete traffic school. Both DUI and reckless driving convictions typically result in demerit points. However, the number of points generally increases with the seriousness of the violation. So wet reckless violations normally carry fewer points than do DUI violations.

When Is It Possible to Plea Bargain for a Wet Reckless?

Many states have laws that prohibit most or all plea deals in DUI cases. In these states, plea bargaining for a wet reckless generally isn't an option.

However, in states that do allow DUI plea bargaining, your chances of getting a DUI charge reduced to a wet reckless depend on a number of case-specific factors. A wet reckless reduction is considered to be a good deal for the defendant. So prosecutors generally will agree to a wet reckless only in certain circumstances.

Every case is different. But a defendant's chances of making a wet reckless plea deal are usually best in cases that involve at least one of two things:

  • substantial mitigating factors, and/or
  • facts or circumstances that might make it hard for the prosecution to prove the DUI charge at trial.

In other words, prosecutors are most likely to agree to a wet reckless if the situation warrants leniency, the evidence is thin, or there are legal issues that could stand in the way of the prosecution.

How Mitigating and Aggravating Circumstances Affect DUI Plea Bargaining

Mitigating factors might include circumstances like the defendant not having a criminal record, having a low blood alcohol concentration, and taking responsibility by getting into substance abuse treatment. In cases that involve significant mitigating circumstances, prosecutors are usually more amenable to offering the defendant a lenient plea deal.

Conversely, in cases involving aggravating factors such as accidents and injuries, the prosecutors are much less likely to agree to a favorable plea deal such as a wet reckless.

Problems With Proving the DUI Charges

Prosecutors typically want to hold defendants accountable for their actions. But for that to happen, the prosecutor needs to get a conviction either through plea bargaining or a guilty verdict at trial.

When the evidence supporting a DUI charge is solid, the prosecutor will be confident about getting a conviction if the case goes to trial. In these situations, there isn't much motivating the prosecutor to offer a plea bargain that's particularly favorable to the defendant.

If, on the other hand, the evidence is weak or legal problems could pose an obstacle to proving the charge at trial, the prosecution is less likely to take such a hard line. In other words, with these kinds of issues, the prosecution might view plea bargaining as the only way to be reasonably sure of a conviction. Under these circumstances, the defendant might have a good chance of getting a wet reckless plea deal.

Talk to a DUI Attorney

DUI laws are complicated and differ substantially by state. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, it's a good idea to get in touch with a qualified DUI lawyer in your area. An attorney who knows the ropes should be able to tell you how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you understand what options might be available.

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