Former DUI Prosecutor Diana Aizman Providing Legal Analysis
In California, there are three felony driving under the influence (DUI) charges that involve the death of another person. These include second-degree murder, also known as “Watson” murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Of these three felony charges, a Watson murder is the most serious offense and carries with it the harshest penalties
The name “Watson murder” stems from the California Supreme Court case People v. Watson1. This case essentially created the possibility that someone can be convicted of second-degree murder when killing someone in an accident while driving. The three elements that the prosecution has to prove in order to convict someone of Watson murder include:
(1) that the death resulted from an intentional act,
(2) the natural consequences of that act are dangerous to human life, and
(3) you knowingly acted with conscious disregard to that fact2. There need not be intent to kill another human being.
The third element is the hardest for the prosecution to prove. It is required that the prosecution shows that you acted with implied malice, meaning a conscious disregard for another human’s life. This is a difficult element to prove because the prosecution has to show what your mental state was at the time of the crime. Usually the prosecution will do this either by showing that you signed a Watson advisement when you were convicted of a previous DUI or that you attended DUI school where they discuss the dangers of driving under the influence.
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If you are convicted of a DUI second-degree Watson murder the penalties can range from 15 years to life in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and a strike on your record under California Three Strikes Law . (( California Penal Code Sections 190, 670, 667.5)) These penalties can increase based on the number of deaths you caused, if you left seriously injured survivors, and a number of other factors.
1. What is the California Three Strikes Law?
The Three Strikes Law is intended to help impose stricter sentences on habitual offenders. If you are facing your second serious felony conviction, you must be sentenced to prison for twice the term otherwise provided for the crime. If this is your third felony conviction, and they are considered serious or violent convictions, then this law mandates a prison sentence of 25 years to life.3
2. How can a lawyer defend against a second-degree Watson murder charge?
There are a number of defenses your lawyer should raise on your behalf. The first include the defenses in any DUI case, namely that there was an error in procedure, the chemical tests were not administered properly or are inaccurate, and that you were not under the influence while driving. In addition to these defenses, your lawyer may argue that the accident that resulted in the death of another person was not your fault or that you never signed a “Watson” advisement or completed DUI school. This argument can help disprove the last element of implied malice and your charge may be reduced to manslaughter
3. What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?
With a second-degree murder charge, the prosecution has to show that you had implied malice or a conscious disregard to the life of another human being. For a manslaughter charge, the prosecution merely has to show negligence in your decisions. Manslaughter is a more common charge in DUI cases because it is easier to prove all of the required elements than second-degree murder.
Police Mistakes – With a second-degree murder charge, police mistakes before, during, or after arrest can have a significant impact on the outcome of your conviction. If your attorney can show weaknesses in the prosecution’s case against you because of police error on your past or current charges, your attorney may be able to get your charges in the current case dismissed or reduced to a less severe charge than second-degree murder.
A conviction of a second-degree DUI “Watson murder” can have devastating and long-lasting effects on your life. The penalties jump from lesser DUI charges under the California Vehicle Code to penalties found in the California Penal Code. An attorney with significant experience with these types of cases caan help you defend your case and attempt to get the charges reduced or dropped.
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