A Note on "Wet Reckless" Reductions for DWIs

A Suggestion for DWI Reductions

One question that comes up again and again with clients facing their first charge of Driving While Impaired (DWI) is, “What can be done to get this charge reduced to something less serious?” While DWI is not a felony, it is still a more serious criminal offense and it is treated as such by prosecutors around the state of North Carolina. Because of this, it tends to be fruitless to expect any sort of reduction when charged with a DWI. But this was not always the case in the Tar Heel State.

In previous decades, some counties in North Carolina would offer a reduction for DWIs to a charge of Careless & Reckless or Reckless Driving to Endanger. This type of reduction, colloquially known as a “Wet Reckless,” would be given in certain situations where the charge of DWI was not in and of itself serious. DWIs are presumptively Class 1 misdemeanors in North Carolina; Careless & Reckless Charges are Class 2 misdemeanors. A DWI will put 12 points on your insurance and suspend your license for at least a year; a charge of Careless & Reckless is 4 points on your insurance and 4 points on your license, not enough on its own to suspend someone’s license.

Wake County takes DWIs very seriously, and like other N.C. counties, does not currently offer Wet Reckless reductions under any circumstances or for any reason. Yet Lorrin Freeman, the new District Attorney, has shown herself willing to make changes to how things are done in Wake County, as evidenced by her bringing back Improper Equipment reductions after years without them. It’s far too early in DA Freeman’s term of office to say whether she would make such a drastic move as to bring back the Wet Reckless reduction for DWIs, but there is a small possibility of it happened. Why? Because Wake County gets more than its fair share of DWI charges.

Last year, roughly 3000 citations for DWI were issued in Wake County. By current estimates, this year looks to top 5000 citations issued. That is an enormous number of cases for even a county as large as Wake to handle, and there is a serious backlog for cases that require a trial or hearing. The District Attorney’s Office has taken positive steps to quickly move the number of DWIs through the court system, most notably by automatically offering attorneys copies of the police report and/or video available for DWI cases. This information is enormously helpful to defense attorneys when preparing their clients’ cases, and can make it much easier for clients to come to a decision of whether to take something to trial or to negotiate a plea bargain.

The backlog is still a concern to defense attorneys and district attorneys alike. Allowing for Wet Reckless reductions in certain limited cases of DWI would reduce the workload for assistant district attorneys, allowing them to prosecute the more serious cases fully. For example, the Wake County District Attorney’s Office could offer Wet Reckless reductions, but only if defendants met the following criteria:

  1. This is the Defendant’s first DWI, in North Carolina or any other State
  2. The Defendant was impaired by alcohol, not any other chemical substance
  3. The Defendant submitted to a breath test upon request
  4. The Defendant’s BAC was 0.10 or under
  5. The Defendant has a safe driving record (no suspendable offenses in the last 5 years)
  6. The Defendant was polite and cooperative with officers

This is, of course, merely a list of suggestions, not any actual protocol for a Wet Reckless reduction. There has been no indication whatsoever that District Attorney Freeman intends to introduce any Wet Reckless reduction policy or of what shape it would take if it were to be enacted. At the same time, it’s clear that such a plan COULD be enacted if it were the will of the District Attorney’s Office. Whether it is a good or worthwhile thing to do may still be in debate, but suffice to say it’s possible.