Amanda Bynes Avoids Jail with “Wet Reckless” Plea

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

Actress Amanda Bynes, who has been making headlines for the last few years for erratic behavior, pleaded no contest to a "wet reckless" charge in relation to a DUI charge from 2012.  In that incident, Bynes hit a police car while she was driving under the influence, causing minor damage to both vehicles.  As a result of her plea deal, Bynes will be getting three years' probation and have to participate in alcohol education classes.  As long as she continues to stay out of trouble, it appears she will not serve any jail time.

The publicity on this plea seems to be mixed, with some media outlets proclaiming that it is another instance of a celebrity getting away with a crime while others are giving more attention to the types of sentences that first time offenders in similar situations would face in combination with Bynes's recent medical treatment for mental illness.

In California, "wet reckless" or reckless driving involving alcohol, is a common plea to first time offenders who had a blood alcohol content of around the .08% threshold or if you performed moderately bad on field sobriety tests but did not fail them.  While it officially is not a DUI, it is treated as such for many purposes under the law.  If someone with a wet reckless conviction on their record later gets a DUI, it would count as a second DUI, not a first, meaning that there would be increased penalties.  Additionally, as far as insurance companies are concerned, wet reckless is the same as a DUI and they will raise their rates accordingly.

However, the sentence is somewhat lighter for a wet reckless conviction as it usually does not involve jail time or a license suspension, but instead will involves fines, probation and alcohol classes such as Bynes got in her sentence.  Wet reckless is not a charge that someone can be actually arrested for, but is only offered as an alternative for plea deals in a DUI case, most likely when there is some other weakness in the prosecution's case against the alleged drunk driver. 

There could be many reasons why this plea deal was offered by the prosecutor in Bynes's case, but most likely it has to do with her recent long-term treatment for various mental illnesses which, by some accounts, included some treatment for drug and alcohol use.  While mental illness and rehab is not a guaranteed way to get lesser charges against someone, it is not unheard of for a judge or prosecutor to allow for a lesser sentence in some form when there is a good faith effort on behalf of someone arrested for a DUI to get treatment, especially in the case of a first time offender who did not cause injury, death or major property damage.  While many may see this plea deal as just another celebrity getting away with a crime, it appears that the plea is something that would be common in any similar case, i.e. a first time offender who got treatment.