The California Supreme Court established in 1981 that a reckless drunk driver who causes a fatal auto accident may in some cases face a second-degree murder charge. In a case known as People v. Watson, the court determined that the defendant acted with a conscious disregard for human life that justified the murder charge. Prior to Watson, virtually all California DUIs resulting in fatalities were charged as vehicular manslaughter. If you are accused of DUI in southern California – whether or not you’re involved in a fatal accident – get the legal advice and representation you’ll need by contacting an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney as quickly as possible.
The precise legal difference between vehicular manslaughter and DUI-murder is that murder is premeditated while manslaughter isn’t. Since the 1981 case, suspects facing DUI charges related to a fatality must be given a “Watson advisement,” a warning that the suspect could be charged and convicted of second-degree murder. A second-degree murder conviction is punishable by 15 years to life in a California state prison.
To be convicted for DUI-murder, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant consciously and voluntarily chose to engage in behavior that he or she knew (or should have known) was life-threatening, and the victim died because of the defendant’s intentional, life-threatening behavior. Murder charges also require malice, so a prosecutor in a DUI-murder case must prove malice on the part of the defendant. However, a previous DUI conviction can be considered evidence of malice, since the defendant already knew the consequences of the behavior but continued with the behavior nevertheless.
Whether or not property damages, injuries, or death is involved, if you or someone you love is facing a DUI charge in California, now or in the future, consult with a good DUI lawyer at once. In Orange County, speak immediately with an experienced Orange County DUI defense attorney.