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Plea Bargains in DUIs

Judge's Table with contract on desk

A plea bargain involves the changing from a not guilty plea to either a guilty or a no contest plea.  A plea bargain is an agreement that is entered into between the defendant and the prosecutor where in exchange for a reduction in charges, time, or penalties, the defendant agrees to forego a trial and be sentenced.


Below we will look at DUI pleas.

The first thing you should be aware of with a plea bargain is that there is no entitlement to an offer from the district attorney.  However, prosecutors are often pressured to resolve cases through the use of plea bargains for efficiency purposes.  Think about if a prosecutor is maintaining over 500 cases, there is no way that they can take them all to a jury trial.  Rather, they work to resolve cases using a plea bargain.  A plea bargain is a give and take between the defendant and the prosecution.

Advantage to DUI Plea

The main advantage to a plea bargain for a DUI is most often to reduce the sentence.  For instance, under a first DUI charge, if found guilty the court could sentence you up to six months in custody.  Many prosecutors however, will offer to let you plead guilty to the charge in exchange for a shorter sentence.  It is important to note that this is dependent upon the county for the charge. For instance, most Bay Area counties allow the prosecutor and defense to negotiate the sentence so long as it is statutory allowed.  However, counties such as San Benito and Tuolumne have set minimums by the court on what a first DUI may be plead to.


Regardless of which type of county you are in, the likelihood that you will receive a sentence reduction is great, otherwise the courts know that there would be no reason for a defendant to accept a plea bargain.  This allows you to plan any custody time since you will know what it will be in advance.


Other advantages to a plea bargain in a DUI can involve a reduction in the charges.  As we will discuss below, there are lesser charges that a person may plead to which can have serious advantages.

Wet Reckless

One of the most common pleas in a DUI case is a plea to a lesser charge known as a “wet reckless.”  A wet reckless is a reduced charge that is only permitted when the prosecution agrees to the charge.  A typical wet reckless offer will be made when the blood alcohol of a defendant is less than .10 or if there are proof problems regarding driving.


Advantages to a wet reckless plea include reduced penalties, lack of DUI stigma, no mandatory ignition interlock device, and no mandatory suspension of license


Disadvantages include points on your license, will still receive probation terms, and it will stay on your criminal record and can act as priorable DUI for 10 years.

Dry Reckless

A dry reckless plea in a DUI case is considered one of the best possible outcomes, next to a complete dismissal.  However, prosecutors are reluctant to offer them as a plea bargain for many reasons.  In fact, in Kevin’s career as a prosecutor, having handled thousands of DUIs, Kevin only offered such a plea less than ten times.  But that does not mean it’s impossible.

The advantages to a dry reckless plea includes no DUI on your record, lower fines, likelihood of no jail time, no automatic suspension of your license, and the case does not count as a priorable offense.

Exhibition of Speed

A rare reduction in a DUI case is an exhibition of speed charge.  It is only offered in cases where the prosecution’s case is fairly weak. In fact, most district attorneys would decline to file a DUI charge then have the media learn that they reduced a DUI to an exhibition of speed charge.  An exhibition of speed charge is still a misdemeanor which means you will likely receive probation and fines and possibly some time in custody.

Drunk in Public

A drunk in public plea deal usually occurs only after something significant has happened to the prosecution's case that shows the defendant was intoxicated but the prosecution feels they cannot establish driving.  Viewed in a hierarchy, a drunk in public plea is below a wet reckless, meaning the prosecution must feel that something is greatly wrong with the case in order for them to be willing to go this low. 

Should I Take a Plea Bargain?

This is the question that those charged with a crime face every day.  There is no straight answer unfortunately.  The decision to accept a plea bargain or to go to trial can depend upon many factors including:

  • The strength of the case against you

  • The county the case is charged in

  • Defendant’s criminal history

  • Acceptance of risk if unfavorable verdict at trial


The decision to accept a plea bargain is a careful decision that a skilled and experienced DUI attorney can help you evaluate all of your options and advise you of these factors. Ultimately, the decision to accept a plea bargain must be a decision for the defendant.  

Dedicated DUI Attorney

Kevin Ballard is a dedicated DUI attorney based in Fairfield who understands how to effectively defend those charged with DUIs. Kevin is one of the few attorneys who is both a former prosecutor and trained as a police officer. As such, Kevin knows first hand how DUIs are handled from the initial traffic stop through prosecution and appeal. Let the Law Office of Kevin L. Ballard help you today defend your rights and protect your liberty.

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