What Is a “Wet Reckless”?

Plea bargaining in DUI cases for a lesser charge.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

Most DUI cases are resolved through plea bargaining. In other words, the defendant and prosecution reach an agreement whereby the defendant ends up pleading guilty or no contest to some criminal charge.

Reckless Driving Involving Alcohol

So, what does the defendant get out of it? The benefit a defendant receives from a plea agreement is normally a lesser sentence than would likely result from a conviction of a DUI charge at trial. But in some cases, a DUI plea bargain involves a reduction of the DUI charge to a reckless driving charge. This type of plea deal is often called a "wet reckless" because it's a reckless driving offense involving alcohol.

California's Wet Reckless Law

Some states—like California—have laws that specifically provide for a wet reckless. So, these states have two types of reckless driving: a normal reckless driving offense (sometimes called "dry reckless") and reckless driving involving alcohol.

In most states, there's no wet reckless statute, but it's possible to reduce a DUI to a normal reckless driving charge.

DUI Plea Bargaining Isn't Always an Option

The laws of many states—including New York and New Jersey—specifically prohibit plea bargaining in DUI cases. In these states, it typically isn't possible to reduce a DUI charge to a lesser offense like reckless driving.

In states that do allow plea bargaining in DUI cases, the circumstances of each individual case dictate whether a wet reckless plea deal is possible. Generally, a wet reckless is considered a good deal for a defendant who's charged with driving under the influence. So, cases that involve significant mitigating factors—like a low blood alcohol concentration and a defendant with no criminal record—are the most likely candidates for a wet reckless resolution. In cases with aggravating factors, such as injuries or prior DUI convictions, prosecutors normally won't agree to reduce a DUI charge to a wet reckless.

Wet Reckless Penalties

A wet reckless is generally a good plea deal in a DUI case because the consequences are less severe than the penalties for a DUI conviction. Typically, both DUIs and reckless driving charges are misdemeanors. However, the potential jail time and fines for a reckless driving charge might be less than what you'd face for a DUI. And, whereas license suspension is almost always mandatory for a DUI conviction, with a reckless driving conviction, you may be able to avoid losing your driving privileges.

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