Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The "Watson Murder Rule" and California DUI Law

July 31, 2013 - Not many people are aware that in California you can be charged with 2nd Degree Murder (15 years to life in the State prison). Many people have heard of vehicular manslaughter in the context of drunk driving, but where a defendant has a prior conviction or convictions for drunk driving, the State is free to charge them with 2nd degree murder.

In People vs. Watson, 30 Cal. 3d 290 (1981) the defendant ran a red light and barely avoided a collision with another vehicle. He then sped away reaching speeds of 84 mph in a 35 mph zone before striking another vehicle, killing the driver and her 6 year old daughter. His BAC was later determined to be 0.23%, much higher than the legal limit at the time. The DA decided to prosecute the defendant with 2 counts of murder. This set the stage for many years of back and forth legal wrangling before California enacted the "Watson Murder Rule". The Watson Murder Rule essentially states that when there is evidence of implied malice (i.e., pretty much not caring what your actions can do to human life, or a reckless indifference to actions that have a high probability of causing great bodily injury/death), the state can charge you with 2nd degree murder.

Implied malice can also be found when a defendant has prior convictions for DUIs. When a defendant is found or pleads guilty to a DUI in California, they will be "advised" that drinking and driving is dangerous to human life, and if you kill someone other than yourself, then you can be charged with 2nd degree murder.  This sets the stage for the DA to charge someone with prior DUIs with a 2nd degree murder charge if death to another results from drinking and driving.

If you have been charged with a DUI that results in injury and/or death to another, it is absolutely imperative you retain qualified counsel that is aware of the defenses to DUI charges and 2nd degree murder. Contact an Orange County DUI Attorney to vigorously defend you against formidable charges.

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