What is a “Wet Reckless” in California?
Occasionally, as part of a plea bargain a charge of driving under the influence in violation of section 23152 of the California Vehicle Code will be reduced to a lesser charge such as a violation of section 23103, reckless driving, under the conditions required in section 23103.5. In order to persuade a prosecutor to reduce the charge to the lessor one of 23103 within the terms of 23103.5, several factors must be considered. Probably the most compelling one is the fact that the blood alcohol level is low, also important are the objective signs of impairment such as driving, the demeanor and apparent condition of the person before arrest, as well as the results of the so-called field sobriety tests. On some rare occasions a plea bargain can involve a plea to 23103 without the conditions under section 23103.5, in which case the offense is referred to as a “dry reckless.”
Normally a violation of section 23103 is an offense that occurs when someone drives a vehicle, “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” If the commission of the offense causes a vehicular accident and someone other than the person committing the offense is injured then there are increased penalties.1 “Wantonness” means a consciousness of one's conduct, the intent to perform or omit the act or acts in question, the understanding of the probable injury to another, and the reckless disregard of the consequences. “Wilful” means not just the intent to do the specific act, or acts involved, but also to intentionally disregard the safety of others.
However, with the application of section 23103.5 the nature of the offense is changed to permit it to be used as a substitute for a charge of 23152. This requires the prosecution to agree to the change of plea, or nolo contendere, to the lesser offense of 23103. In order to do this the prosecution must file with the court a statement of the factual basis for the reduction, including the fact that there was evidence of the use of alcoholic beverages or drugs involved in the commission of the offense.2 If the court accepts the plea bargain, which is required, then the court must advice the person who pleads guilty to the offense that it may be used as a prior conviction for purposes of increasing the penalties for a future conviction for either section 23152, or section 23153, which is driving under the influence causing an injury accident.3
If a person is placed on probation for this offenses there are certain mandatory requirements a court must impose. Unless there are compelling circumstances supporting no need, a person must enroll in an alcohol and drug education program approved by the court.4 If the person has been convicted within the previous 10 years of a violation of either the same offense under 23103.5, or a violation of section 23152, or 23153, the alcohol and drug education program must be for 9 months or longer and licensed as required in section 11836 of the California Health and Safety Code, and must include 60 hours of participating in educational activities, group counseling, and individual counseling.5
1 Sections 23104, 23105 of the California Vehicle Code
2 Section 23103.5(a) of the California Vehicle Code
3 Section 23103.5(b) of the California Vehicle Code
4 Section 23103.5(e) of the California Vehicle Code
5 Section 23103.5(f)(1) of the California Vehicle Code