Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is the common name for New Jersey’s drunk driving law. This statute prohibits operating a vehicle while intoxicated, but other laws may also apply to drunk driving incidents. The Atlantic City drunk driving defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain how “wet reckless” and other reckless driving laws work in New Jersey and how to approach your drunk driving charges.
Does New Jersey Have “Wet Reckless” Laws?
“Wet reckless” typically refers to reckless driving committed while under the influence. Some states have separate statutes that specifically punish reckless driving while intoxicated, while others have a general reckless driving statute that applies to both sober and drunk reckless driving.
In New Jersey, reckless driving is one of these general traffic offenses that applies to both sober and drunk driving. Under N.J.S.A. § 29:4-96, reckless driving is any driving committed “in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others.” This driving must also be “likely to endanger” another person or their property.
Under this statute, reckless driving can include jail time up to 60 days and fines of $50 to $200. For any repeat offenses, the fine is increased to $100 to $500, and you can face up to 3 months in jail.
Reckless driving is a separate offense from DWI, which means that it may not apply as a possible charge in every drunk driving incident. Driving under the influence has its own statute with its own penalties, and the NJ legislature intentionally wrote reckless driving and DWI as two separate laws to cover separate conduct. In cases where you did not “disregard … the rights or safety of others,” the police and prosecutors may be unable to charge you with reckless driving in addition to DWI, and those charges should be dropped or dismissed.
Can You Plead Drunk Driving Down to “Wet Reckless”?
In some states, the primary purpose of a wet reckless law is as an alternative to driving under the influence (DUI) charges. DUI is often a challenging crime to convict someone of, and police and prosecutors may look for simpler ways to complete these cases by avoiding the time and expense of holding a trial. One method these states use is to allow the defendant to take a guilty plea to wet reckless in exchange for dropping the DUI/DWI charges.
Plea deals and plea agreements are common tools prosecutors and defense attorneys use to negotiate charges and penalties. These agreements often allow a defendant to avoid certain charges or penalties in exchange for a guilty plea that saves the state the time and expense of putting on a trial. When you take a plea deal, you may plead guilty to a lesser offense instead of the crime you were originally charged with. For instance, someone charged with murder might plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for dropping the murder charges and avoiding a difficult trial. Plea deals often leave the defendant with a less-serious criminal record and potentially less time (or no time) in jail.
Under New Jersey law, prosecutors are not permitted to reduce DWI charges to “wet reckless” charges. The New Jersey legislature intentionally separated these two offenses, and the legislature and NJ Attorney General wrote additional rules prohibiting prosecutors from “pleading down” DWI to wet reckless.
This means that if you are charged with DWI in New Jersey, you will likely have to face those charges as they are. Instead of accepting a plea deal, you may have to fight the charges at trial to avoid the full penalties for a drunk driving offense.
Can I Be Charged with DWI and Reckless Driving at the Same Time in New Jersey?
As mentioned, these laws have different definitions and apply to different situations. You should only face charges for a crime if it applies to your situation. Prosecutors must independently prove each element of each offense to convict you, and if an element doesn’t apply, the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
Prosecutors in New Jersey often charge reckless driving alongside DWI in serious cases as a backup charge. If your lawyer is able to beat the DWI charges by getting the breathalyzer test or the traffic stop thrown out, the police and prosecutors my still be able to fight to convict you of reckless driving. Talk to an attorney about these charges, even if you think you can beat the DWI. Reckless driving carries significant penalties that can still hurt your driving record and criminal record, and you should always have a lawyer represent you on these kinds of serious traffic offense charges.
Atlantic City Drunk Driving Lawyer Offering Free Consultations
If you are facing DWI charges, talk to an attorney about your case. While some states allow pleas to “wet reckless” charges, New Jersey does not. This means you need to face your DWI charges head on with the help of an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney. For a free consultation on your charges, contact the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today at (690) 800-2942.