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How Often Are DUI Charges Reduced?

In Los Angeles County, driving under the influence (DUI) is deemed a severe offense, punishable with harsh penalties set by California penal codes.

If you have recently been charged with a DUI, depending on the circumstances of the incident, you may face fines, driving probation, or even jail time. In some cases, just the allegation alone is enough to result in an automatic suspended license or a mandatory interlock device installation, pending arraignment. 

Faced with such life-altering consequences, you may wonder how often are DUI charges reduced or dismissed?

Fortunately, you don’t have to search for the answers alone. With the help of an experienced DUI lawyer, you may discover ways to potentially reduce your charges.

Here’s what you need to know. 

What Are the Chances My DUI Charge Is Reduced?

Let’s start with some good news—a DUI charge is reduced to lesser sentencing more often than you might think, especially for a misdemeanor DUI. In many cases, the charges may be ultimately reduced from the initial charge. 

How often this occurs isn’t necessarily quantifiable. There’s no exact rate of reduction because each case is different. Whether a case can be pled down or outright dismissed largely depends on the circumstances of your alleged DUI incident and the strength of your defense attorney’s legal strategy.

However, the right Los Angeles DUI Lawyer could work on your behalf to reduce a DUI to a lesser charge like a wet reckless, the informal term for a plea bargain taken by some DUI defendents.[1]

But, before we dive into the legal proceedings, let’s briefly review the factors that could impact the severity of a DUI charge and the likelihood that a prosecutor and judge would be willing to accept reduced charges.

Understanding Misdemeanor and Felony DUIs

When an individual is arrested for a DUI, the specific circumstances of the incident and their driving history will largely determine whether a DUI is charged as a misdemeanor or felony.

In California, you can be convicted of a DUI if you drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher.[2] In such a case, a prosecutor will likely charge you with two separate crimes: [3]

  1. Vehicle Code 23152(a) – Driving under the influence of alcohol.
  2. Vehicle Code 23152(b) – Driving with a BAC of .08% or more.

Should both charges be sustained, they’ll only count as a single DUI conviction.

What are the typical penalties for a misdemeanor DUI?

Under California Penal Codes, a first-time offender may face the following:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • Additional penalties, assessments, and court costs
  • A minimum of 2 days in county jail, with a maximum of 6 months
  • A maximum of 10 months suspended driver’s license
  • Mandatory DUI education
  • 3-year driving probation

First-time offenders contending with misdemeanor DUI charges may not end up serving any jail time; however, even in cases where the minimum jail time is considered, an experienced lawyer can typically help reduce the DUI charges. In some cases, the defendent may avoid serving any time by agreeing to an extra 90 days of restricted driving.  

Aggravating Circumstances

The vast majority of DUI cases will start as a misdemeanor charge at worst.

However, if there are aggravating circumstances, sentencing enhancements will likely be tacked onto your case that could increase the penalties or even bump the misdemeanor charge up to a felony charge. Common examples include:

  • A high BAC of .15+
  • Reckless driving
  • Refusal to take a BAC test
  • An accident resulting in bodily injury and/or property damage
  • Three DUIs within 84 months
  • Child endangerment
  • Driving without a valid driver’s license
  • Driving while on probation for another crime

In the event that there were aggravating circumstances, a Los Angeles DUI attorney could still work to potentially reduce those charges. However, three circumstances will almost always precipitate a felony charge:[4]

  1. Four DUI offenses within 10 years
  2. A prior felony DUI conviction
  3. An accident wherein bodily injuries or fatalities are sustained

What Should I Know about Plea Bargains?

Whether your charges are reduced or dropped may hinge on the actions you take in court.

On the date of your arraignment, you must either issue a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you enter a guilty plea, the case will be settled and penalties paid out. If you enter a not guilty plea, the case will go to trial.

Because criminal cases can be lengthy and expensive, prosecutors are often willing to negotiate a reduced charge in exchange for a guilty plea.

This is known as a plea bargain.

Prosecutors are especially amenable to a plea bargain when:

  • The driver’s BAC was under or close to .08
  • In the event of a first-time DUI case
  • The driver has no criminal history
  • There are flaws in the prosecution’s case

If the bargain is accepted by both the prosecutor and the court, the defendant will be allowed to plead guilty or “nolo contendere” (no contest) to a form of reckless driving. In exchange, they would then be given a reduced charge with lesser penalties.

For instance, a skilled DUI attorney could help you negotiate a plea bargain to a:

Wet Reckless

Under the most common type of plea bargain, a wet and reckless, a prosecutor typically agrees to drop the more serious DUI charge. While a wet reckless often carries lesser penalties, fines, and jail sentencing, the benefits of this sentencing reduction are twofold:

  1. There’s no automatic license suspension; and
  2. The DUI won’t appear on your record.

However, it’s important to note that this is still considered a priorable offense. So, if you were to be convicted of a DUI within the next 10 years, you would be considered a repeat offender.  

Dry Reckless

In some cases, a person charged with a DUI can agree to plea to a reckless driving charge that does not specify the involvement of alcohol. As a dry reckless carries lower fines and penalties than a wet reckless and is not considered a priorable offense, many regard this plea bargain as a more desirable outcome.

But What If I’m Not Guilty?

Police officers aren’t infallible. Mistakes can and do happen.

If you’re innocent of the charges or if there were procedural flaws in the DUI arrest and/or investigation, you can fight to have the charges dismissed outright.

Even if you fail a breathalyzer test, there may be mitigating circumstances that impact the validity of the test, including:

  • The officer failed to demonstrate probable cause for the traffic stop
  • The breath test was faulty due to malfunction, improper use, or external influences
  • You had residual mouth alcohol
  • You experience a medical condition that contaminates the breath test result
  • The arresting officers failed to follow proper police conduct and procedures 

Should you enlist the services of an experienced DUI attorney immediately after the arrest, they can perform an investigation to see whether the arrest was by the books or if the DUI charges could be tossed due to malfeasance.

How Do I Fight to Have My Charges Reduced?

No matter the circumstances of your case, you should know that your charges can be reduced or dismissed altogether. For instance, if you’re being charged with a first-time misdemeanor DUI offense, there’s a strong possibility that a plea bargain will end up with reduced charges. 

But if you want to increase the odds of a favorable outcome, you must enlist the legal counsel of a knowledgeable Los Angeles DUI defense attorney from the outset.

The sooner you act to procure an experienced legal defense team, the better. Robust, responsive legal representation may grant you access to resources and support that can dramatically impact your case. And securing representation right away can help ensure you meet every deadline, avoid common mistakes, and mount a meaningful defense that empowers you to return to your life as quickly and easily as possible.

Have you been arrested for a DUI in Los Angeles? Don’t face the path ahead alone. Contact the Artz and Sturm Law Group today.

DUI lawyer Craig Sturm understands this is a difficult and overwhelming time for you. To schedule an initial case review, please complete this form or call the law firm directly at 310-820-1315 with any additional questions you may have.


Cornell Law School. Wet Reckless.

California Legislative Information. Vehicle Code Rules of the Road.

California Legislative Information. Vehicle Code. DUI Driving Laws. What Is a Felony DUI in California?

[1] Cornell Law School. Wet Reckless.

[2] California Legislative Information. Vehicle Code Rules of the Road.

[3] California Legislative Information. Vehicle Code.

[4] DUI Driving Laws. What Is a Felony DUI in California?

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