Bill DeMott, a former professional wrestler, lost his daughter to a drunk driver in 2015. Since then, he’s toured Florida high schools to warn students against the dangers of drunk driving and to honor his daughter’s memory. But recently, he’s also been spearheading a legislative effort to prevent defendants charged with certain DUI offenses from pleading down to lesser charges like a “wet reckless.”
What Does This Proposal Entail?
Under Florida law, prosecutors generally have the discretion to negotiate plea deals with criminal defendants. Often, these plea deals entail the dismissal of more serious charges in exchange for a guilty plea to a lesser charge. By taking this route, the prosecutor avoids the time and manpower necessary to prepare a case for trial, while the defendant avoids the expense of a trial and the risk of being convicted of the most serious charges.
While a judge isn’t required to accept a plea deal, this prosecutor’s assent to this bargain often carries a lot of weight, and many courts will only reject a plea deal if the evidence shows that it is wholly inappropriate under the circumstances or the proposed sentence is prohibited by law.
In the DUI context, many defendants, particularly first-time offenders, are offered what’s commonly called a “wet reckless” plea. This involves the dismissal of DUI charges in exchange for a guilty plea to reckless driving. DUI charges can result in driver's license suspension, hefty fines, and even a jail sentence, while a wet reckless is a low-level misdemeanor that carries far lighter penalties.
DeMott’s proposal would completely eliminate the prosecutor's discretion to offer plea deals to defendants whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is tested at 0.08 or higher. By essentially banning the wet reckless plea, DeMott hopes to increase the penalties levied on those who are convicted of DUI, which would ostensibly reduce drunk driving rates.
What Could Such a Law Mean for Florida DUI Defendants?
It’s unclear whether DeMott’s proposal enjoys broad enough popularity to be passed into law. However, he has stated that this year his efforts went farther than ever before and has also indicated his desire to take this campaign nationwide. With a higher-than-average rate of drivers who self-report driving while under the influence, Florida may be seen as the ideal test state for such a law.
If this law were enacted, it wouldn’t impact plea agreements that were already in place. However, those arrested after such a law’s enactment (or whose cases didn’t proceed to trial until after the law took effect) could be subject to a non-negotiable jail sentence or probation, hefty fines, and a black mark on their criminal record if convicted.