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Vehicle Code 23103 and 23103.5 Reckless Driving

California Vehicle Code Section 23103 VC is the charge for reckless driving. Reckless driving may seem like a broad term and could include anything from driving at very high speeds through traffic, street racing, or burnouts in a group of spectators. A subsection of the reckless driving charge is also a plea bargain option for drivers arrested on suspicion of a DUI. 

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense and could cost you your license. However, just because the police do not like the way you were driving does not mean you should be convicted of reckless driving. If you were arrested for reckless driving in California, you can contact your local East Bay DUI defense lawyer for help. 

Vehicle Code 23103 VC Text 

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23103:  

“A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”

A person charged with reckless driving does not have to intend to cause damage. A person acts with wanton disregard for safety when:

  1. He or she is aware that his or her actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm, and
  2. He or she intentionally ignores that risk.

Elements of Reckless Driving

In order for the prosecutor to get a conviction, the prosecutor or district attorney needs to prove every element of the case, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is some doubt that even one element is not met, you should not be found guilty. 

Vehicle Code 23103 VC

Under the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, to prove the defendant is guilty of the  23103, the state has to prove: 

  1. The defendant drove a vehicle; AND
  2. The defendant intentionally drove with wanton disregard for safety of persons or property.  

It can be difficult to define wanton disregard for safety. According to one California case, “wantonness includes the elements of consciousness of one's conduct, intent to do or omit the act in question, realization of the probable injury to another, and reckless disregard of consequences.” People v. Schumacher (1961) 194 Cal.App.2d 335, 340 [14 Cal.Rptr. 924].

Penalties for Reckless Driving

The penalties for reckless driving may depend on your prior driving record and prior criminal record. A first-time offense for reckless driving can include:

  • Imprisonment for 5 to 90 days, and
  • Fine of $145 to $1,000. 

A conviction also counts as 2 points on your driving record. In addition to higher insurance rates, too many points can lead to a license suspension. 

Reckless Driving Causing Bodily Injury

The penalties are much more severe if anyone other than the driver is injured because of reckless driving. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23104 VC, whenever reckless driving causes bodily injury, the defendant shall be imprisoned in the county jail for 30 days to 6 months, and fined from $220 to $1,000.

Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC “Wet Reckless”

California Vehicle Code Section 23103.5 VC is known as a “wet reckless.” A wet reckless offense may be confusing because it will not be part of the arrest charges. Instead, it is a plea bargain option for individuals charged with certain DUI offenses. 

plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and defendant, where the defendant will admit guilt to a reckless driving charge instead of facing the more serious charges of a DUI. However, it will be on the record that the driver had consumed alcohol or drugs. 

A wet reckless also qualifies as a priorable offense if the driver is later arrested for another DUI. That means a subsequent DUI could be charged as a 2nd DUI even if the prior conviction was for reckless driving involving alcohol. 

Penalties for a Wet Reckless in California

The penalties for a wet reckless charge are not as severe as standard DUI charges. There is no mandatory license suspension under a wet reckless conviction. Penalties can include: 

  • Fine ($145 to $1,000), 
  • Jail (5 to 90 days)
  • Probation (generally 2 years), and
  • DUI school (generally 12 hour / 6weeks).

Defense Strategies for a Reckless Driving Charge in California 

There are some defense strategies that could help to get your charges dismissed or get a “not guilty” verdict from the jury. This includes challenging that the driver was reckless. For example, speeding alone is generally not enough to justify a reckless driving conviction. If your defense attorney can cast doubt on the prosecutor's case, that you were not driving with a wanton disregard for the safety of others, you should not be found guilty of reckless driving. 

Reckless Driving Defense Lawyer 

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 35 years of criminal defense experience in Alameda County and Contra Costa County, and understands the consequences of criminal charges for California drivers. If you are thinking about whether to fight the reckless driving charge, contact East Bay DUI lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

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