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DUI Homicide: Watson Murder and Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

There are various crimes you can be charged with if a person died as a result of you drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can be charged with a regular DUI if you were driving under the influence but you were not the one who caused the accident. On the other hand, conditional on the seriousness of your case, if your accident resulted in someone’s death, it is likely that you were charged with Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated and/ or Murder in the Second Degree.

These situations can be very stressful for anyone. The charges you face in any of the situations mentioned above are serious and may severely change your life. We recommend that you seek help from an attorney in order to make sure your rights are not violated. The information in this article will provide you with knowledge of the charges you may be facing and what those charges may bring.

At the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm, we know what is needed in these situations to keep your mind at ease. Our firm’s attorneys have nearly 3 decades of experience and can utilize the resources we have at our disposal to build the best possible defense for you. If you believe you can benefit from our representation, we urge you to call the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm to schedule your FREE DUI consultation.

The “Regular” DUI

If your DUI incident involved an injury or death, you probably were not charged with a regular DUI. Usually, a DUI involving an injury or death will be charged as a DUI Causing Injury, Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated, or Murder in the Second Degree. In order to be charged with the more serious offenses stated above, a prosecutor must first find you guilty of a regular DUI by proving all of the elements needed for DUI conviction. Additionally, sometimes your charges can be reduced from one of the greater offenses to a common DUI. Thus, you should educate yourself with the law of a regular DUI.

To be convicted of a DUI, the prosecution is required to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant was operating a motor vehicle; and
  2. While the defendant was operating the motor vehicle:
    1. The defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was above .08%,
    2. The defendant’s ability to operate the motor vehicle was impaired by the alcohol, or
    3. The defendant’s ability to operate the motor vehicle was impaired by drug use.

If all of the elements discussed above can be proven, you will be convicted of a DUI pursuant California Vehicle Code 23152. Punishments for a regular DUI are jail/prison sentence, probation, fines, and suspension of your driver’s license, and/or mandatory participation in drug/alcohol education programs. There are various defense arguments an experienced attorney can make to prevent you from being convicted of a regular DUI. Some of those arguments include that you were not the one operating the motor vehicle, or that you were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If these arguments are successful, your charges may be dismissed.

California Penal Code 191.5 – Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

If your DUI accident resulted in someone’s death, there is a high probability you were charged with the more severe offense of Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (VMWI). Depending on how serious your case is, a VMWI can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. In order to be convicted of a VWMI charge, the prosecution must prove that you were at fault of the person’s death, as well as the elements needed to find you guilty of a regular DUI. To prove that you were at fault of the death, the prosecution needs to prove you engaged in negligent or illegal behavior (ran a red light, driving at excessive speed, etc.), as well as driving under the influence. A prosecutor must prove more than the fact that you were in an accident while driving under the influence and a death occurred. In some cases, the party that is driving under the influence is not the party that caused the accident that resulted in death. In these cases, the party who was driving under the influence should not be convicted of manslaughter.

Sometimes, the police wrongfully assume the party who was driving under the influence is the one at fault for causing the accident. Bias investigations and police reports may result from these false assumptions. In these cases, our firm uses an accident expert that recreates the accident to determine who is the party at fault, and can correct the effect these biased reports and investigations have on your case. A VWMI conviction is not proper if the accident expert determines that the individual driving under the influence did not cause the accident.

Punishments that a misdemeanor VWMI conviction can carry are a maximum of one-year sentence in county jail. For a conviction of felony VWMI, the punishment can be a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

California Penal Code 187 – “Watson Murder” or Murder in the Second Degree

A “Watson Murder” is the most severe DUI charge that can be brought against an individual. “Watson Murder” derives from the 1981 case, People v. Watson, where the California Supreme Court held that a second-degree murder charge is appropriate where a DUI accident results in an individual’s death.

When people hear “murder,” they normally think of intentional homicides. Since intent is not usually involved in DUI accidents, people are surprised when they face murder charges after being involved in a DUI accident. A quick introduction of murder law may help you understand the Watson Murder law.

California’s murder law is defines as “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.”

Malice Aforethought

All crimes are comprised of the individual’s criminal act, and the individual’s specific state of mind during the act. Basically, if the crime is murder, the act is the killing of the human being, and the state of mind would be malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is a difficult concept to understand because it can be satisfied in various ways. Malice aforethought can best be separated into two different types: there is express malice and implied malice.

Express malice is defined by the defendant willingly and intentionally killed the victim. However, even if the defendant did not willingly and intentionally kill the victim, implied malice can be established by:

  • The defendant killed the victim by intentionally engaging in the act resulting in the victim’s death;
  • If the natural and probable cause of the act the individual engaged in was dangerous to human life; and
  • The individual knew that engaging in the act was a danger to human life.

Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder

Murder in California is separated into different degrees (first and second degree) for the purposes of sentencing individuals convicted of murder. The defendant’s state of mind when committing the criminal act is what determines what degree of murder the defendant is charged with. A showing of malice aforethought is required for both first and second-degree murder.

A defendant can be convicted of first-degree murder in two different ways:

  • Intentionally killing an individual; or
  • During the defendant’s commission of an inherently dangerous felony, someone dies, known as felony murder.

These two types of murder are not appropriate ways to charge an individual in a DUI case involving an accident. All other murders are classified as second-degree murders, including Watson Murders.

As an overview, murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. A Watson Murder charge requires the defendant to have implied malice, and therefore, it falls within the definition of murder in the second degree.

Watson Murder

A “Watson Murder” is the most severe DUI charge that can be brought against an individual. “Watson Murder” derives from the 1981 case, People v. Watson, where the California Supreme Court held that a second-degree murder charge is appropriate where a DUI accident results in an individual’s death.

Usually a Watson Murder is charged where the prosecution can prove that an individual has been apprised, and thus knows about the risks that driving under the influence involves. For this reason, it is very common for individuals who have been previously convicted of DUI charged with Watson Murder. AS previously mentioned, Watson Murders require that the defendant showed implied malice. Defendants with a previous DUI conviction have been provided with a Watson admonition. As mentioned below, when an individual is previously convicted of a DUI, they are formally made aware that a subsequent DUI offense will leave the individual at risk of a second-degree murder charge. The warning a Watson admonition provides will enable the prosecutions to show that the defendant was warned about the risk of what can happen if the individual continued to drink and drive. A Watson admonition is usually the significant reason an individual is charged with Second-Degree Murder, instead of a Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated.

Prosecutors must prove 3 elements for the court to be able to convict you of a second-degree murder charge using the Watson Murder rule:

  1. You engaged in an act that caused the death of a human being intentionally;
  2. The consequences of engaging in the act put human life at risk; and
  3. You knowingly and intentionally engaged in an act that disregarded human life.

Basically, the prosecution is required to prove that the defendant’s state of mind showed implied malice. Moreover, remember that the biggest difference between first and second-degree murder is that first-degree is comprised of a killing that is done premeditatedly and deliberately. Whereas, the defendant acting in a way that shows complete disregard for human life is enough for a second-degree murder charge. It is the mind state required for second-degree murder that qualifies a Watson Murder charge to be brought against a defendant who caused a person’s death by drinking and driving.

Implied Malice

Often, the hardest element the prosecution has to prove is that you knew that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs put human life at risk. The reason this element is the hardest to prove is because the prosecution needs proof of your state of mind when you decided to operate the motor vehicle. On the other hand, if you have a history of DUI convictions or arrests, it makes it easier for the prosecution to prove what you were thinking when you were operating the motor vehicle. The prosecution will most likely use your previous DUI convictions as evidence in order to convince the court that your prior convictions made you aware of the risks associated with DUI. After a previous DUI conviction, you could have signed a Watson Murder admonition form. The Watson Murder admonition formally warns you that driving under the influence can result in someone’s death. Also, if you attended alcohol or drug education programs as a punishment for a previous DUI conviction, the prosecution can prove you were aware of the risks to human life associated with DUI by using any completion from stating you completed the program. However, the prosecution’s ability to prove you were aware of the risks of driving under the influence will be more difficult without the presence of any prior DUI convictions, if you have not signed a Watson Murder admonition, or if you have not previously attended any alcohol or drug education program.

Punishments Following A Watson Murder Conviction

A conviction of a second-degree Watson Murder charge can carry punishments that include: a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, maximum fine of $10,000, restitution to the families of all deceased parties, one strike added to criminal record for purposes of the California three strikes law. These punishments can vary depending on how many deaths, seriously injured individuals, or other factors your case involved.

Recurring offenders are punished more severely under the California’s three-strike law. A second felony conviction that is considered serious by the state requires a mandatory sentence of twice the period that the crime would usually require. If you are convicted of a third felony that is considered a serious offense by the state or conviction of a violent felony can carry a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment.

The attorneys at the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm will devote themselves to provide you with the best possible defense for the Watson Murder charge against you. Contact our office today for your FREE DUI consultation.

The experienced attorneys at the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm will use their experience and knowledge of California DUI and criminal law to provide you the best defense strategy available. We will assess all of the facts of your case and will analyze every aspect of your arrest, the DUI accident, and the evidence against you to ensure your rights were not violated at any point. We will aggressively challenge any evidence stating you were the cause of the death, showing your implied malice, and if applicable, the fact that you did not cause the accident. If appropriate, we will make any arguments that can properly show why your charges should be dropped to manslaughter, or regular DUI.

A Watson Murder charge after you have been in a DUI accident is a severe charge that can carry serious consequences. You deserve the best defense team that will fight to build the best defense strategy in order to get you the best possible outcome for your case. If after reading this article you believe the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm can be of assistance to you, we recommend you contact our office immediately.

To schedule your FREE DUI consultation with an experienced attorney at the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm, call our office today at 949-377-2280.

 

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