What is Reckless Driving (Vehicle Code § 23103)?
Reckless driving is defined as driving “a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanted disregard for the safety of persons or property…” Under subsection (b) of Vehicle Code § 23103, this crime can be committed also in an off-street parking facility.
The minimum punishment is five days in county jail. The maximum is ninety days in county jail. The minimum fine is $145 and the maximum fine is $1,000. The statute allows a judge to impose both the jail time and a fine in appropriate cases.
In DUI cases, a negotiated plea bargain may include a plea to reckless driving, which is preferable to a plea to DUI. When this happens, the complaint is amended to add a charge of defendant violating Vehicle Code § 23103 pursuant to § 23103.5. This is known as a “wet reckless.”
A “dry reckless” is far superior, however, it is much more difficult to negotiate than a “wet” reckless. A “dry,” as compared to a “wet,” does not count as a prior DUI in a further DUI prosecution. In other words, if one pleads to a “wet reckless” in 2012, but is then arrested for DUI in 2015 and prosecuted for DUI, the 2015 DUI will carry with it sentencing enhancements as a second DUI based on the 2012 plea bargain. If the 2012 plea had been to a “dry,” the 2015 DUI would be prosecuted as a first-time DUI.
Both a “dry” and a “wet” reckless is far superior to a DUI if there is a probation violation. If one pleaded to a reckless driving, the maximum jail time a court can impose for a probation violation is ninety days, whereas with a probation violation for DUI, the six months is the maximum jail term.
Probation is also usually shorter for a plea to reckless driving, usually one or two years. However, when the reckless driving charge is negotiated from a DUI, it is not uncommon for probation to last three years.
The fines for reckless driving are also quite a bit lower. If the court imposes the $145 fine, the total payment to the court after penalties and assessments are added, may only be about $640. In a DUI, in contrast, the minimum fine is $390, which leads to a total payment of roughly $1,860 once penalties and assessments are added.
If one is lucky enough to win a “set aside” of one’s driver license suspension at the DMV hearing, a dry reckless has no mandatory alcohol awareness class as part of its minimum sentence. With a DUI, minimum punishment includes a three month minimum DUI class. Consequently, when one is lucky enough to win a “set aside” and a wet or dry reckless, the driver can avoid the time and fees associated with a DUI class.