In a number of states, including California, you can be charged with – and convicted of – second-degree murder if you are driving while intoxicated, you cause an accident, and that accident results in a fatality. If you’re charged with DWI in Orange County – whether it’s a misdemeanor, a DUI manslaughter, or worse – contact an experienced Orange County DWI attorney as quickly as possible. In California, the law specifies three distinct felony DUI charges that a prosecutor may bring when a DUI involves a fatality:

  • second-degree murder, known as a “Watson” murder, the most serious DWI charge
  • gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
  • vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated

The California Supreme Court, in People v. Watson (1981), affirmed a prosecutor’s right to charge an intoxicated driver involved in a fatal accident with second-degree murder. To convict you of a second-degree “Watson” murder in a California DUI case, the state must prove that:

  • the fatality resulted from your intentional act,
  • the natural consequences of that intentional act are dangerous to human life, and
  • you knowingly acted with conscious disregard to those natural consequences.

You do not have to have the intent to kill another person, but the state must prove that you acted with “implied malice,” that is, a conscious disregard for other human lives. In People v. Olivas (1985), a California appeals court distinguished the “malice” in a Watson second-degree murder case from the “gross negligence” required to convict a suspect of vehicular manslaughter. Second-degree murder requires a “conscious disregard for life” (“malice”) while manslaughter requires only a “conscious indifference to the consequences” (“gross negligence”).

Obviously, you do not want to be convicted of DUI murder, DWI manslaughter, or even a misdemeanor first-offense DWI in California. If you are charged with DWI in Orange County, you’ll need legal help fast, so don’t wait. Contact an Orange County DUI attorney immediately.