CAN A DUI RESULT IN A MURDER CHARGE? YES.
A person can be charged with second degree murder if there is an alcohol-related accident in which someone dies.
These types of cases are called Watson murder cases because of the California Supreme Court case, People v. Watson.
To convict someone of a Watson murder after a DUI accident, the prosecutor must prove:
- The person committed the crime of driving under the influence.
- The natural and probable consequences of driving under the influence were dangerous to human life.
- The person was aware of that their actions were dangerous to human life.
- The person deliberately acted with conscious disregard for the danger to human life.
The easiest way for the prosecutor to prove a person was aware of the danger to human life is to show that: (1) The person has a prior DUI conviction; and (2) The person was given the “Watson advisement” in connection with that DUI case.
Any person convicted of a DUI in California will be given the Watson advisement, which states:
“You are hereby advised that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and, as a result of that driving, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder.”
A person who was given this advisement is deemed to be aware that driving under the influence is dangerous to human life. If that person then drives while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and is involved in an accident in which someone dies, that person will almost certainly be prosecuted for murder.
There are other ways a prosecutor can try to prove that a person was aware that driving under the influence is dangerous to human life. For example, a court would likely find that a person who has worked in an emergency room or as a first responder is aware that driving under the influence is dangerous to human life. If that person drives under the influence and is involved in a fatal accident, that person could be prosecuted for murder.
A person convicted of a Watson murder can be sentenced to anywhere from fifteen years to life in prison. (Salinas man sentenced to 22 years to life for killing two women in DUI). A Watson murder conviction is also a “strike” under California's highly punitive Three Strikes Law.
Not all DUI accidents involving a fatality will result in a murder prosecution. If a prosecutor isn't confident about getting a murder conviction, the prosecutor may charge the driver with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. These charges carry potential penalties from four years to ten years in prison.
If you or a loved one was involved in an alcohol or drug related driving accident in which someone died, hiring the right attorney is essential. The right attorney can mean the difference between freedom and years behind bars.
Schedule a time to speak with DUI lawyer Phillip Crawford: Speak with Phillip Crawford
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