An experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney can provide the sound legal advice you will need if you are charged with driving under the influence in southern California. Should you plead not guilty to a DUI charge and take your case to trial? Or should you accept the best plea bargain you can get? The answers to those questions will depend on the details of each DUI case. If you honestly believe that you are innocent, you should probably plead not guilty. But if the evidence of guilt is persuasive, and a conviction is inevitable, your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain for a reduced charge or a reduced sentence.

If you are charged with any crime in this state, do not sign a plea bargain document or even speak to prosecutors about your case unless your own attorney is present. In California, if the DUI charge you face is a misdemeanor and a first offense, and if no one was injured and no property was damaged, you will probably be offered a plea bargain agreement by the prosecution, and you will need to consider it seriously with your attorney’s help.

WHAT IS A “WET RECKLESS” CHARGE?

Typically in California, when the charge is first-offense, misdemeanor DUI, the prosecutor will drop the DUI prosecution if the defendant will plead guilty to a charge called “wet reckless.” The wet reckless charge is brought only by prosecutors offering plea bargains; the police will not charge you with it. Wet reckless is a tool used by prosecutors to prod DUI defendants into accepting a plea bargain – primarily to push cases more swiftly through the crowded courts. If a DUI defendant accepts the prosecution’s plea bargain offer, he or she will know what sentence will be imposed before formally entering the plea.

Experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney Michael S. Phillips, with the Law Offices of Todd Landgren, explains: “‘Wet reckless’ was created by the legislature to increase the consequences suffered by defendants who were originally charged with DUI, but were able to cut a deal with the prosecutor to plead to the lesser offense of reckless driving in exchange for dismissal of the DUI charge(s).”

WHEN MAY PROSECUTORS OFFER PLEA BARGAINS IN DUI CASES?

While most first-offense, misdemeanor DUI suspects in California are offered a wet reckless plea bargain, it’s not automatic. Under the law in California, prosecutors may offer plea bargains in driving under the influence cases only when the evidence is insufficient for proving the charge, when key witness testimony is unavailable, or when the plea arrangement will not cause what the law calls a “substantial change” in the penalties to be imposed. When a prosecutor offers a wet reckless plea bargain, he or she must explain to the court and on the record why the agreement was offered.

The penalties for a wet reckless conviction are lesser than the penalties for a DUI conviction. In most cases, no jail time will be imposed. Also, no driving under the influence conviction appears on your criminal record – or during a background check – and that’s important for anyone who works professionally as a driver or for anyone seeking work that requires driving. However, DUI attorney Michael S. Phillips warns, “Employers are also increasingly wise to the fact that the wet reckless conviction indicates DUI behavior and the same insurance/liability consequences or concerns for their companies as a DUI; not a simple traffic infraction.”

WHAT’S THE BEST REASON TO ACCEPT A WET RECKLESS PLEA BARGAIN?

Although pleading guilty or no contest to wet reckless probably means no jail time will be required, convicted offenders will usually be ordered by the court to pay a fine, to take part in alcohol and drug awareness classes, and sometimes to perform community service. Attorney Phillips explains that, “The biggest upside of pleading to a wet reckless in lieu of a DUI, for most individuals, is that it doesn’t cause a suspension of your privilege to drive in California. It is also likely to have a less detrimental effect on your out-of-state driving privileges than a DUI.”

If a DUI defendant pleads guilty or no contest to wet reckless, no driving under the influence conviction goes on his or her record, but the arrest and conviction do not simply disappear. Attorney Phillips explains, “A wet reckless will add two negligent operator points to your driving record in California, disqualify you from the California safe driver insurance discount for ten (10) years, and put you in a higher insurance rate bracket than that to which you were previously assigned.” Attorney Phillips adds, “Since wet reckless has become so common over the years, most insurance companies recognize it as a DUI for their purposes.”

If you are charged with driving under the influence again within ten years of a wet reckless conviction, that DUI charge will be handled as a second driving under the influence offense, entailing harsher penalties than a first-offense if you are convicted. Attorney Phillips also tells us that, “Beginning on January 1, 2019, wet reckless will become even more like a DUI, including the likely imposition of an ignition interlock device (IID) requirement on those convicted of either.”

So, should you accept a plea bargain and plead guilty to a wet reckless charge? In many driving under the influence cases in this state, pleading guilty or no contest to a wet reckless charge may be a defendant’s best option – but not necessarily in every case. Every DUI case is different, and if your defense attorney believes that a not guilty verdict is possible at trial, your attorney may recommend that you enter a not guilty plea.

Orange County DUI attorney Michael S. Phillips offers this final observation: “Any decision to accept an offer to plea requires a careful cost/benefit analysis that cannot begin without proper counsel and diligent, dedicated representation. Few lawyers have the ability to perform the work necessary to secure the best possible options(s) available under the incredibly unique circumstances of each criminal case. Of those few, defendants will only be adequately served by the scarce few who have the integrity to go to bat for their clients and the employ the diligence needed to enable their clients make a fully informed decision.”