What's Reckless Driving (VC 23103) & Punishment?

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 or anywhere else a car can be driven (i.e. on a golf course, on a front lawn, on a dirt lot, etc.).
Summary in 65 Words or Less:  Reckless driving is defined as driving a motor vehicle on a public highway in wanton and willful disregard for the safety of others.  A conviction for this can have a more adverse effect on one’s immigration status than a DUI, so it is important to consult with an immigration attorney before entering into such a plea if one is not a U.S. citizen.
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, plus penalties and assessments which can boost the total owed to the court to nearly $4,500.  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.”  The client may then enter a “no contest” or guilty plea to the amended charge and the DUI charges are dismissed in the interests of justice.

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, even though it was not to a DUI, but to a “wet.”    If the 2012 plea had been to a “dry,” the 2015 DUI would be prosecuted as a first-time DUI.

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Both a “dry” and a “wet” reckless are 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 can be 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.

For more information about reckless driving, click on the following articles:
  1. Why Is a “Wet Reckless” Better Than a DUI?
  2. Is Expungement Worth It?
  3. Expungement of an Infraction?
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