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In the state of California, when someone commits a DUI, and their actions result in a person’s death, it is known as a DUI murder or a Watson murder. This type of charge applies when a person has a previous conviction for DUI in California. They have been informed of the risks associated with driving under the influence. Despite this warning, their actions result in an accident where one or more people are killed.
A DUI murder in California is not a separate criminal offense. This term is utilized when and individual is charged with murder in the second degree using California’s murder law. This law is described in Penal Code 187 PC and covers when a fatal accident occurs during a DUI. This offense is often referred to as a Watson murder. The reason stems from a California Supreme Court Case that was heard in 1981 and known as People v. Watson. This is the case that set the legal standards for a person driving while intoxicated and causing an accident that kills another person.
In order to obtain a conviction for a California DUI murder, the prosecutor must prove the person charged with the crime acted with implied malice. They will try to provide evidence that the actions of the accused were intentional and resulted in a death. They will also try to show the natural consequences of the accused’s actions were dangerous to human life. They must also prove the accused understood their actions and still had disregard for all the possible dangers it involved. Most legal experts agree that proving someone understood their actions can be a challenge for a prosecutor.
Since the ruling of the Watson case in 1981, individuals found guilty of DUI in California are required to either sign a paper or verbally acknowledge something referred to as the “Watson advisement.” This will occur at the time they receive their sentence for DUI. When this is signed or verbally acknowledged, a person states they understand it’s extremely dangerous to human life when a vehicle is operated by someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They also agree that if they kill someone when DUI, a California prosecutor is able to charge them with murder.
A prosecuting attorney will often use one of two ways to prove a person had implied malice. One of the first is to show the accused had been given and did acknowledge what was contained within the Watson admonition. They may also try and prove the accused did attend a DUI school that had been approved by the court.
Should a person be convicted of a DUI second-degree Watson murder, the penalties are severe. They could be sentenced from 15 years to life in prison. They could receive a fine up to $10,000. They will receive a strike on their record which will apply to the California Three Strikes Law. All of these penalties can be increased when more than one death occurs. Any seriously injured survivors will also be taken into consideration for sentencing.
If the prosecution is not able to prove the elements required for a Watson Murder conviction, the charges can be reduced. This could include vehicular manslaughter while being intoxicated. It’s also possible to have the charges dismissed entirely. It’s possible to challenge the equipment used as well as the reading of a blood alcohol level. Police can commit errors in administering a sobriety test. They may not have followed the correct procedures required for administering such a test. The reading of a high blood alcohol level could be the result of consuming certain foods and more.
When a person is accused of a Watson murder, it is a very serious situation. It’s important to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. They can keep a bad situation from turning into an even worse one.