When a person is presented with two unpleasant options, they are often happy to end up with the one that has fewer negative consequences. This is the case in Florida when someone is faced with a drunk driving conviction versus a "wet reckless" conviction.
Florida makes reckless driving a crime, as do most states. A wet reckless is a reckless driving charge that involves alcohol or drugs. Although a first wet reckless offense is a misdemeanor and can result in jail time, the criminal and administrative sanctions are much greater for a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction than for a reckless driving conviction. That's why drivers charged with a DUI in Florida are happy to take a wet reckless plea bargain if they can get it.
Reckless Driving in Florida
The crime of reckless driving is set out in Section 316.192 of the Florida Motor Vehicles Statute. The law defines reckless driving as driving a vehicle "in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property." It also provides that trying to evade a law enforcement officer is reckless driving "per se." This means that evidence that someone evaded the police in a car, without any further evidence or recklessness, is presumed to be reckless driving.
The statute does not describe a specific crime called wet reckless or dry reckless. These are terms commonly used by attorneys and judges to refer to reckless driving with alcohol or drug involvement and reckless driving without alcohol or drug involvement.
Penalties for Reckless Driving in Florida
The penalties for a wet reckless charge in Florida generally depend on the driving record of the person charged and whether the driving resulted in damage to property or injury to people.
A simple reckless driving conviction is where there is no resulting property damage or personal injury. A first-offense simple reckless driving conviction is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of between $25 and $500. A subsequent simple reckless driving can be punished by up to six months in prison and/or a fine of between $50 and $1,000. Reckless driving offenses that cause harm are more serious crimes and are punished more severely.
If alcohol or drugs contributed to reckless driving, an additional sanction applies. In that case, the court must order the driver to complete DUI classes, that is, a substance abuse education course and evaluation. If the DUI program conducting the course refers the person to a provider for substance abuse evaluation and treatment, the driver must complete the evaluation and treatment.
DUI Conviction in Florida
A person can be arrested for a DUI in Florida under section Section 316.193 of the Florida Motor Vehicles Statute if their driving is significantly impaired by the consumption of alcohol or drugs or if they have a blood alcohol level (BAL) over the legal limit, generally 0.08 percent. Driving with a BAL of 0.08 or greater is called a per se DUI in Florida, since it creates a presumption that the person was driving under the influence. As with a reckless driving arrest, potential penalties depend on the person's driving record and whether the DUI caused property damage or personal injury.
A simple first-offense DUI is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of between $500 and $1,000. A simple second offense is punishable by up to nine months in jail and a fine of between $1,000 and $2,000. A third offense can get the driver 12 months in jail and a fine up to $5,000. A fourth offense within 10 years is a felony and can be punished by over a year in prison and a fine of not less than $2,000. When a DUI results in property damage or serious personal injury, it is also a felony.
Plea Bargain to Drop a DUI Charge
A driver arrested for a DUI is sometimes able to make a deal with the prosecutor to plead guilty to a wet reckless charge in exchange for the state dropping the DUI charge. This is called a plea bargain. It is easy to understand why this is desirable for the driver. Although a first offense of either of these driving crimes can result in jail time, the incarceration period, fine and administrative penalties for a DUI are much more severe than for a wet reckless.
DUI and Wet Reckless Penalties
For the first-offense wet reckless, a driver will be assessed a fine between $25 and $500 and a possible prison sentence of 90 days maximum. Compare this to a DUI, where the fine for a first offense can be $500 to $1,000, and the jail term can be six months. The driver's car can be impounded for 10 days, and the driver may be required to install an ignition interlock device when they get the right to drive again.
In addition, for a DUI, the driver's license will be suspended for a period ranging from 180 days up one year. This is not the case for a wet reckless. Instead, the driver gets four demerit points on their driving record. It takes 12 points in a year, 18 in 18 months, or 24 in three years to result in a license suspension.
On the other hand, there are downsides to a wet reckless charge. Someone convicted of a wet reckless will have to attend a DUI evaluation and education program. As part of the evaluation, the driver may be sent for substance abuse evaluation and treatment, and the driver is required to complete any treatment program recommended at their own expense.
When Is a Plea Bargain Possible?
While it is almost always better for a driver to plea bargain a DUI down to a wet reckless, it is not always something the prosecutor is willing or able to do. Under Florida law, plea bargaining is not always permitted. Generally, Florida law does not allow plea bargaining for a DUI if the driver's blood alcohol level when arrested was 0.15 percent or more, or when the DUI resulted in property damage, injuries or death.
Even if a driver's charges do not include a very high BAL, or property damage or injury, the prosecutor can opt to reject a plea bargain – and will usually do so – if the case is easy to win. The prosecutor is more likely to consider a plea bargain if the evidence against the driver is weak, and the state is not certain to get a conviction.
A plea bargain is also more likely if there are issues with the chemical testing procedure used or the driver was not actually impaired even though the BAL was over the legal limit. It is also more likely to get a plea bargain on a first DUI charge than on a second or subsequent arrest.
- The 2019 Florida Statutes: Motor Vehicles Code Section 316.193
- The 2019 Florida Statutes: Motor Vehicles Code Section 316.192
- MyDUIFlorida: What Is a Florida Wet Reckless?
- Select SR 22 Insurance: Differences Between Wet Reckless and DUI
- Kevin Pitts Law: What Is a Florida Wet Reckless
- DUI Driving Laws: Can I Plead to a "Wet Reckless" in Florida?
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.