What is a wet reckless? Does it count as a drunk driving conviction?

Out of state wet reckless offenses count as prior drunk driving convictions when calculating OWI penalties in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, a first-offense drunk driving charge is non-criminal and does not carry the possibility of incarceration.  This is not the case in the vast majority of other states, where a first offense is typically a criminal charge.  Some states allow individuals facing OWI charges the opportunity to enter a plea to lesser charges that aren’t titled something like “drunk driving,” “operating while intoxicated,” or “driving under the influence.”  Frequently those states refer to the modified charges as “wet reckless” offenses.

Illinois is one state that allows for wet reckless modifications.  There are a few requirements for a wet reckless plea:

  • Firstly, this is the driver’s first drunk driving arrest;
  • Secondly, the driver has no criminal record;
  • And finally, the driver has a mitigated blood-alcohol concentration.

A wet reckless in Illinois is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, which (in that state) carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and $2,500.00 in fines.

This blog post discusses out-of-state wet reckless charges and their impact on OWI penalties in Wisconsin.  If you’re facing any kind of drunk driving charge, contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. for help.  We spend a significant amount of time defending individuals facing various drunk driving charges throughout Wisconsin.  Many of our clients have had prior offense in neighboring states, such as Illinois and Minnesota.  No matter your situation, we may be able to help.  Contact us at (414) 270-0202 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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Do wet reckless convictions count towards the Wisconsin OWI penalty structure?

Wisconsin OWI penalties increase as the number of prior convictions increases.  This is important because the driver who has one prior wet reckless offense conviction from another state, when facing a new charge, will be charged for 2nd offense operating while intoxicated in Wisconsin.  In other words, a wet reckless counts as a prior drunk driving conviction.

State v. Evan J. Schnoll, clarified this issue in a Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision dated April 28, 2022.

Schnoll was charged with an OWI 2nd in Wisconsin in 2020.  He challenged the validity of his prior California OWI, arguing that it could not be counted under Wisconsin law.  Schnoll’s prior conviction was for a wet reckless, stemming from an OWI arrest.

Section 343.307(1)(d) of the Wisconsin statutes explains what counts as a prior OWI when it occurred in another state.  As an example, Wisconsin courts must count offenses committed in states where the statute prohibits conduct similar to the list of prohibited conduct, such as driving under the influence (DUI, different from OWI).  Schnoll was originally charged under a California law prohibiting driving under the influence of alcohol and driver with .08 or greater BAC.  He eventually pled those charges down to simple reckless driving (also called a wet reckless).

The Court of Appeals found the decision to charge Schnoll with a 2nd offense valid:

… Schnoll’s “wet reckless” conviction under CAL. VEH. CODE § 23103.5(a) was a “determination” that Schnoll violated one or more of the provisions in CAL. VEH. CODE § 23152. See CAL. VEH. CODE § 23103.5(a) (stating that pleas under this section are “in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for,” original charges of violations of CAL. VEH. CODE § 23152). Specifically, Schnoll’s “wet reckless” conviction was a “determination” that he violated CAL. VEH. CODE § 23152(a) and (b), which prohibit a person from driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and driving a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08, respectively. The conduct prohibited in CAL. VEH. CODE § 23152(a) and (b) falls squarely within the prohibited conduct listed in WIS. STAT. § 343.307(1)(d) (“using a motor vehicle while intoxicated or … [using a motor vehicle] with an excess or specified range of alcohol concentration”) …

What are the penalties for OWI in Wisconsin?

Penalties for drunk driving convictions in Wisconsin are as follows:

  • 1st offense OWI: This is a non-criminal charge and cannot result in any jail or prison penalty.  Instead, the defendant faces a maximum penalty of a 6-9 month driver license revocation and a fine of $150.00 – $300.00.  Various fines and surcharges apply on top of the fine.
  • 2nd offense OWI: second offense drunk driving charge is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by 5 days – 6 months in jail.  Fines range from $350.00 – $1,100.00.  A conviction for a 2nd offense includes a 12-18 month driver license suspension and an ignition interlock device requirement.
    • The 5 day jail penalty in a 2nd offense OWI is a mandatory minimum.  The court cannot sentence the driver to less than 5 days.
  • 3rd offense OWI: A third offense OWI is also a misdemeanor.  Penalties include 45 days – 1 year in jail, $600.00 – $2,000.00 in fines, 2-3 year driver license revocation, and an ignition interlock device.
    • A mandatory minimum penalty of 45 days jail applies.

Fourth and subsequent OWI felony offenses:

Wisconsin law treats all fourth and subsequent drunk driving convictions as felonies.

  • 4th offense OWI: A fourth drunk driving case is a Class H felony, punishable by 60 days – 6 years in prison and $600.00 – $10,000.00 in fines.  You face a revocation of your driver license between 2-3 years, and an ignition interlock device requirement of 1-3 years.  A conviction for a 4th offense OWI in Wisconsin also includes a lifetime driver license revocation.
  • 5th offense OWI, 6th offense OWI: 5th offense OWI includes a mandatory minimum penalty of 1 year in prison.  Penalties for a 5th or 6th offense OWI start at the 1 year prison requirement and escalate all the way to 10 years in prison.  You face $600.00 – $25,000.00 in fines, a 2-3 year driver license revocation, and 1-3 year ignition interlock device.  OWI 5th and 6th offenses are Class G felonies.
  • 7th offense OWI, 8th offense OWI, or 9th offense OWI:
    • OWI 7, OWI 8, and OWI 9 penalties are the same.  They are both Class F felonies and carry penalties ranging from 3 years in prison to 12.5 years in prison.  You face up to $25,000.00 in fines, 2-3 years driver license revocation, and 1-3 year ignition interlock device.
  • 10th or greater OWI: Your tenth OWI offense and any subsequent charge all include the same potential penalties.  This means that these penalties apply if you’re convicted of your 10th OWI, your 15th, your 20th, or anything in-between.  An OWI 10th is a Class E felony, with penalties ranging between 3 – 15 years prison, 2-3 year driver license revocation, and 1-3 year ignition interlock device.
A driver operates his car while intoxicated
Wet reckless charges, along with other charges for drunk driving conduct, qualify as “prior OWI offense” under Wisconsin law. Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. to speak with one of Wisconsin’s best criminal defense law firms.

Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. to speak with our OWI defense lawyers about your case

Hiring one of Wisconsin’s best OWI defense lawyers to fight your case is an important first step.  Many general criminal defense attorneys do not understand the subtleties of drunk driving law and may miss important issues in your case.  At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., we specialize in both areas of law.  We’re well-equipped to fight your OWI case and we’re aware of issues such as whether a prior wet reckless charge impacts your Wisconsin case.

To schedule a free consultation contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202.

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