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Reducing Charges in a DUI Case

Sometimes, the best DUI defense strategy is to get the prosecutor to let you plead to lesser charges.   There are four basic categories of offenses less serious than DUI.

Below, we briefly discuss each of the following, in order of the most to the least serious:

  • wet reckless,
  • dry reckless,
  • exhibition of speed,
  • traffic infractions.

And finally, we discuss DMV point counts and how they affect your driver's license.

1. Wet Reckless – California Vehicle Code 23103.5

Reckless driving -- California Vehicle Code 23103 -- is a less serious charge than DUI.  When accepted as a plea bargain in a DUI case, it is known as a “wet reckless.” (Vehicle Code 23103.5).

Benefits of a Wet Reckless over a DUI

  • Shorter Probation. 1 or 2 years for wet reckless, as compared to 3-5 years for DUI.
  • Less Potential Jail Time.  A maximum of 90 days in country jail for a wet reckless as a first offense, rather the 180 days maximum with a DUI.
  • Lesser Fine. There is no minimum fine for a wet reckless and often the actual fine is less than half that for DUI. Minimum DUI fines (including the court-imposed penalty assessment) usually start at around $1500.
  • Shorter Alcohol Program. With a wet reckless, the court may impose just 12-hours of an alcohol program, or none at all. With a DUI, it must impose at least a 90 day program (24 hours or so of class time).
  • No license Restriction. After a DUI conviction, you can only drive to/from work or your alcohol program for at least 90 days.  With a wet reckless plea, the court is not required to impose such a restriction.
  • No sentence enhancements. With a wet reckless plea to a second or third drunk driving offense, you can often avoid otherwise-mandatory sentence enhancements, such as jail time and extended license suspensions.


  • Priorability. If you suffer a DUI conviction within ten years after a wet reckless plea, it still counts as a prior DUI conviction.
  • Insurance. Most insurance companies treat a wet reckless as a DUI for purposes of premium hikes and cancellations.
  • DMV Suspension. Any DMV license suspension that results from your arrest is not affected by reduction of the charge to wet reckless.

2. Dry Reckless

Sometimes the prosecutor is willing to drop the charges to simple misdemeanor reckless driving. This is known as a California “dry reckless” -- that is, reckless driving not involving alcohol.

A charge of dry reckless offers significant advantages over both DUI and wet reckless. As a result, defense lawyers often make it their goal to work out dry reckless plea deals for their DUI clients.

Benefits of a Dry Reckless Over a DUI

  • shorter probation,
  • less potential jail time for a probation violation,
  • shorter (or no) alcohol program,
  • lower fine,
  • no license restriction,
  • less increase in car insurance premiums (compared to DUI or wet reckless), and
  • not priorable (i.e., doesn't count as a prior DUI conviction if you suffer a subsequent DUI arrest).

It is this last point that makes many prosecutors reluctant to let a defendant plead to a dry reckless. Prosecutors like to have ammunition in case a defendant commits another drunk driving offense later on.

3. Exhibition of Speed

"Exhibition of speed" -- Vehicle Code 23109 -- is a low-level misdemeanor. It carries roughly the same consequences as a dry reckless. Like a dry reckless, it does not count as a prior offense in subsequent DUI cases.

Literally, "exhibition of speed" refers to a speed contest -- such as a drag race or a race against a timer. The charge seldom has anything to do with the facts of the drunk driving case. It is an agreed upon "legal fiction" for settling a DUI on lesser charges.

4. Traffic Violations

If the prosecutor's case is very weak, he/she may be willing to reduce the charges to a traffic violation, such as speeding or failure to yield. These are not criminal charges but infractions, punishable only by a fine.

Often the prosecutor will want the defendant to plead to two moving violations (referred to as a "pair of movers"). This is because you can only go to traffic school on one of the violations. If you plead guilty to a pair of movers, you will still have to endure DMV and insurance consequences for the other.

5. DMV Point Counts

Unfortunately, even when your DUI charge gets reduced to a wet reckless, dry reckless or exhibition of speed, it still counts as two points on your DMV record.

You are deemed a “negligent operator” by the California DMV if you get:

  • 4 or more points in a 12 months,
  • 6 or more points in 24 months, or
  • 8 or more points in 36 months.

Negligent operators may have their licenses suspended for six (6) months, and be placed on DMV probation for up to one (1) year.

For more information on DMV points, see California Department of Motor Vehicles, Guidelines and Actions.  Or contact one of our Los Angeles DUI lawyers.  We have gotten California DUI charges reduced on behalf of clients throughout Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and Ventura Counties.

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DUI cases are rarely hopeless. DUI convictions are almost never inevitable. Clients retain our California DUI defense attorneys for one reason: they want to fight the case. And win.

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The police arrested you for DUI. You gave a blood or a breath sample. The DUI officer confiscated you drivers license. The police released you with a notice to appear in court in a few weeks. Where do you go from here? Our lawyers are here to guide you step by step.