DUI is a severe offense in California, attracting hefty penalties, including time behind bars and monetary fines. The penalties increase with the number of DUI convictions you have in your criminal record and whether you caused an accident, injury, or death. If you cause an accident in Los Angeles while drunk driving and someone loses their life as a result, your DUI charge could become a murder charge, attracting even heftier penalties. You’ll need the help of an experienced DUI attorney to fight your charges and to compel the court to either reduce or drop them.
At Jonathan Franklin DUI Attorney, we have significant experience in handling even the most challenging DUI cases. Contact us for help, guidance, and solid defense if your DUI conviction has led to murder charges.
California DUI Laws and Watson Murder Charges
When the police arrest you for DUI in California, they forward the details of your case to the prosecutor after conducting the investigations and gathering evidence to support DUI charges. The prosecutor decides on the charge based on the facts of your case and your criminal history. For instance, if you face a simple DUI charge, you could face charges for a felony DUI if you have three prior DUI convictions within ten months from the current charge.
The severity of your case will also determine the nature of your charges and penalties after a conviction. Thus, a simple DUI charge can change into a murder charge based on the following:
- Extreme circumstances of your case
- One or more fatalities
When this happens, your charges change from a DUI to a Watson murder charge. A Watson murder charge owes its originality from a 1981 case by People against Watson. The California Supreme Court determined the case. During the hearing, the court determined a direct link between a 2nd-degree murder and DUI charges. Drunk or drugged driving is a severe offense and could lead to a murder case. But to charge you with DUI murder, the prosecution must demonstrate the following element following. The Watson decision:
- That you intentionally caused another person to lose his/her life
- That your actions at the time were distinctively dangerous to the public
- That you knowingly decided to drive while intoxicated, thereby killing a person
- You acted the way you did with total disregard for the dangers associated with drunk driving
The prosecutor’s most significant challenge in cases like these is demonstrating before a jury that you decided to drive while intoxicated even when you knew so well that your actions could cause another person to lose their life. Thus, charges for DUI murder are not straightforward to prove in California. However, if successfully done, you could face harsh penalties upon conviction.
To ensure a conviction, California prosecutors use ‘implied malice’ to convince the court of the defendant’s willingness to drive while intoxicated. The prosecutor will also seek to establish that you were fully aware of the dangers associated with drunk driving, including the possibility of killing another person. Implied malice could include the following:
- That you (the driver/defendant) received Watson warning
- That you completed a court-ordered DUI program
For example, the jury might assume that as a driver in California, you understood the dangers that come with driving under the effect of drugs or alcohol. And although you knew these facts, you chose to ignore them.
Proving Watson Murder in California
If your simple DUI charge in California becomes a murder charge, the prosecutor will charge you with DUI or Watson murder. Here are the facts of this offense that the prosecution must prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That you committed a deliberate act that caused another person to lose their life. The intentional act, in this case, is driving a vehicle while under the effects of drugs or alcohol.
- The natural results of the intentional actions were threatening to people’s lives.
- That you knowingly acted the way you did, with an intentional disregard for the danger you put in the lives of those around you.
Note that the court will not require the prosecutor to prove your intent to cause another person’s death. That is the fact that distinguishes California’s 1st-degree murder and Watson murder. You might have acted recklessly but not intended to kill another person. However, the court will expect the prosecutor to prove implied malice. The court will want to know that you consciously neglected the danger of drunk driving, especially the possibility of a person losing their life.
It seems that every driver ought to know that drunk or drugged driving could cause a fatality. However, DUI murder charges require more than that.
Proving Implied Malice
As previously mentioned, it could be challenging for the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you decided to drive while intoxicated even when you knew the dangers associated with your actions. Thus, prosecutors use implied consent in cases like these. Here are elements of the case that the prosecution must prove to demonstrate implied malice:
- You read and signed a Watson warning — This could have happened if you have a prior DUI conviction. It could also occur if you have ever completed a court-ordered DUI program.
- That you had particular knowledge or understanding regarding the risks associated with drunk driving — You could have attained special knowledge like this through working as a police officer, paramedic, or any other profession in which firsthand awareness is created regarding the consequences of driving while drunk or drugged.
Common Elements of a Watson Murder
Most DUI murder cases in California have specific common facts. They include:
- Multiple previous convictions for DUI by the defendant
- That you had, before drinking, the intent to operate a vehicle
- That you had an extremely high BAC when the arrest took place, of at least .15%
- That you drove recklessly while operating under the influence
- That you had particular knowledge or understanding of the dangers associated with drunk or drugged driving, whether from DUI school, previous Watson advertisement, or through your profession
If the prosecution fails to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, he/she could instead charge you with vehicular manslaughter when intoxicated.
Penalties for Watson Murder in California
A 2nd-degree Watson murder conviction in California is punishable by the following:
- Fifteen years to life imprisonment
- A maximum fine of $10,000
- A strike on your criminal record, according to California’s Three Strike Law
The strike will heighten penalties for your subsequent felony convictions. For instance, if you receive another felony conviction in the future, it will be considered a second strike. It will be punishable by double the standard sentence for the offense according to California law. A third strike is punishable by 25 years to life imprisonment.
Additionally, you are likely to face additional penalties, which you must serve consecutively if more victims are involved in the DUI accident. The penalties will be given on top of your sentence as follows:
- Three to six years for every surviving victim that incurs a significant bodily injury in the accident
- One year, and a maximum of three years for each victim who incurs less severe injuries
Possible Legal Defense Strategies to Watson Murder Charges in California
If you face charges for Watson Murder in California, the punishment you are likely to receive upon conviction is life-altering. Therefore, it is advisable to seek the help of a competent attorney for a solid defense against those charges to compel the court to either reduce or drop your charges. Fortunately for you, your attorney has specific legal strategies he/she can use in your defense to help you obtain a favorable outcome of your case. Some of these strategies are:
You Weren’t Driving Under the Influence
The most significant defense strategy to use in any DUI-related case is the lack of DUI. You could not be determined guilty of Watson murder by a California court if you were not driving under the influence in the first place. Therefore, a skilled DUI attorney will try to fight your DUI charges to have all your criminal charges dropped by the court.
Fortunately, defense strategies are available that your DUI attorney can use to challenge your DUI charge. Some of them are:
Failure By The Police To Adhere To All Title 17 Code Of Regulations While Administering Bac Tests
California law has provided a list of guidelines the police must follow when administering BAC tests in suspected cases of DUI. For instance, only an authorized technician must draw your blood to determine your blood-alcohol concentration. If not, your attorney could be able to challenge the test results or make them inadmissible as evidence in court.
Again, the police must store blood samples properly to prevent contamination that could influence the results. If your attorney has evidence to show that your blood samples were not correctly stored, he/she could compel the court to dismiss your BAC test results.
Your Bac Breath Or Blood Tests Were Inaccurate
There is always no guarantee that the test results produced by the arresting officers were accurate. For instance, the breathalyzer used to take your breath sample during the testing may not have been appropriately calibrated. The law requires the police to ensure that breathalyzers are always calibrated and well maintained. If not, your skilled DUI attorney will challenge the test results to have them dismissed by the court.
You Were Not Driving The Vehicle When The Accident Occurred
In court, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant was the driver for the court to find you guilty of DUI. If there's proof that you were not driving the vehicle, you cannot be found guilty of DUI. Someone else might have been driving your car at the time, or you could have been a passenger in the vehicle that caused an accident. If the court accepts the ‘no driving’ defense, it could drop your Watson murder charges.
That the Accident Wasn’t Your Fault
Someone else could have caused the accident in which the other person lost their life. If that is the case, you’ll not be guilty of Watson Murder even if you were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Your experienced DUI attorney could use accident reconstruction experts to determine what happened at the accident scene. It could show the actual cause of the accident. If these results indicate that the accident was not your fault, the court could drop your Watson murder charges to simple DUI charges.
Lack of Implied Malice
Remember that the prosecution must prove implied malice beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty of Watson murder. If not, the prosecutor’s evidence may not be sufficient to find you guilty of your charges.
Your attorney can use this defense if you did not receive a Watson warning concerning a previous DUI or you never completed any court-approved DUI program. Your attorney could also prove your lack of ability to act in total disregard for human life in court.
If the court accepts your defense, it could reduce your Watson murder charges to a more lenient charge like vehicular manslaughter when intoxicated.
Note that the burden of proof is always on the prosecutor, not the defense. The law requires the prosecutor to prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecutor fails in this mandate, the court will not have sufficient proof to sentence you to Watson murder. Therefore, the judge could reduce or drop your charges based on the evidence presented in court.
Find an Experienced DUI Attorney Near Me
If your DUI conviction has led to murder charges in Los Angeles, CA, it is advisable to partner with an experienced DUI attorney to have the court drop or reduce your charges. Based on the evidence presented by the prosecution in court, your attorney can challenge various elements of the case to render some or all evidence inadmissible in court. At Jonathan Franklin DUI Attorney, we have the necessary skills and experience to help obtain a favorable outcome of your case. Call us at 323-464-6700 and let us guide you through the legal process.