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DUI Homicide: Watson Murder

If you have been reviewing our website, then you know that being convicted, or accused, of driving under the influence can have dire consequences on your life. DUI penalties can best be viewed as a sliding scale of “culpability”, or “blameworthiness.” If you fall on the DUI spectrum at all, there will be serious consequences. However, the consequences become infinitely more severe as facts are added that take your conduct away from what is known as simple DUI. The purpose of this article is to: (1) introduce the reader to the “simple DUI”, (2) introduce the reader to “aggravating factors”, (3) identify the other charges as you climb up through the spectrum; and (4) introduce the concept of the Watson murder charge, which is the harshest charge you can face if you are charged with driving under the influence.

The “Simple”DUI 

At one end of the spectrum is something known as a “simple DUI.” This is the standard DUI charge without any aggravating circumstances. To be found guilty of a simple DUI, the Prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  1. The Defendant was operating an automobile; 
  2. While operating the automobile, one of the following was true: 
    1. The driver had a BAC of over 0.08% 
    2. The drive was impaired by alcohol, even though their BAC was under 0.08% 
    3. The driver was under the influence of drugs (“DUID”) 
    4. The driver was addicted to drugs, and not in drug treatment If the Prosecutor can prove all of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you will likely be convicted of driving under the influence in violation of California Vehicle Code §23152.

If the Prosecutor can prove all of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you will likely be convicted of driving under the influence in violation of California Vehicle Code §23152.

As more facts are added to your DUI charge, you begin to climb up the spectrum towards the Watson murder. Naturally, if nobody died you cannot be charged with a Watson murder; but for purposes of this article’s framework, aggravating factors move you along the criminal spectrum. The following facts, if true, can result in charges including “aggravating factors”:

If the Prosecutor can prove all of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, you will likely be convicted of driving under the influence in violation of California Vehicle Code §23152.

As more facts are added to your DUI charge, you begin to climb up the spectrum towards the Watson murder. Naturally, if nobody died you cannot be charged with a Watson murder; but for purposes of this article’s framework, aggravating factors move you along the criminal spectrum. The following facts, if true, can result in charges including “aggravating factors”: 

  • While driving under the influence, you were in accident with another vehicle; this is considered even if the driver of the other vehicle was under the influence as well.
  • While driving under the influence, you were in accident where another individual was hurt; this includes passengers in your vehicle.
  • At the time you were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, your blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) was 0.20%, or higher. In these cases, your attorney will likely challenge the accuracy of the test in an effort to reduce the BAC the Prosecutor is allowed to accuse you of; this can have the practical effect of taking your BAC out of the “aggravating” level.
  • At the time you were driving under the influence, there were passengers in your vehicle who were 14 years old or younger. It is not uncommon for a DUI with this aggravating factor to be charged as both aggravated DUI and Child Endangerment. If you are accused of aggravated DUI based on having a passenger who was 14 years old or younger, contact an attorney at Los Angeles DUI Attorney Law Firm immediately. It is essential that your attorney begin building a defense forboth of your cases. The reason for this is even if your attorney can defeat the Prosecutor’s case of aggravated DUI against you, which would leave you with a standard DUI charge, the Prosecutor may still have a case against you for child endangerment. This is true even if the entire DUI charge against you is thrown out; it becomes much less likely, but it is still a possibility.
  • At the time you were stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence, you refused to submit to a blood, or breath, test.
  • At the time you were arrested for driving under the influence, you were on probation.
  • At the time you were stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence, you did not have your California driver’s license; alternatively, if you were driving with a license that has been cancelled, revoked, or suspended. 
  • At the time you were arrested for driving under the influence, you had already been convicted of a prior DUI in the recent past.
  • If at the time you were stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence, you were driving between 25-30 MPH above the legal speed limit, or you were driving in a “reckless” manner; this generally means 3 or more traffic offense in a short period of time.
  • At the time you were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, you were not legally allowed to drink; less than 21 years of age or on probation with those conditions attached. If while driving under the influence, you were involved in an accident; and failed to remain at the scene. In this case you will be charged with aggravated DUI, DUI hit-and-run, and potentially additional charges. If this is what you are accused of, contact an attorney immediately, this particular accusation can result in severe penalties.

If any of these are present, you will be charged with aggravated DUI, and the penalties associated with a conviction will be enhanced. Once someone suffers injury as a result of another person drying under the influence, the consequences will become increasingly harsh. Driving under the influence – causing bodily injury, in violation of California Vehicle Code §23153 is the first step on that path. If your DUI results in the injury of another person, you will face the following potential consequences:

  • Monetary sanctions ranging from $350, up to $5,000 -Informal probation ranging from 3 to 5 years. 
  • Restitution to all the victims (this is a fine that goes to the victims of the crime; it is essentially a short cut to the victim to obtain immediate payment while they prepare their case against you in civil court.
  • A Department of Motor Vehicles license suspension for a period ranging from one to three years.
  • Incarceration ranging from 5 days up to a maximum of one year.
  • The penalties become far more severe if the person injured suffered from serious bodily injury, or “SBI.” The next step on the spectrum occurs when someone dies as a result of driving under the influence. The lowest charge involving death as a result of driving under the influence can be found under California Penal Code §191.5; this is known as “vehicular manslaughter.” To prove this, the Prosecutor must show the following:
    • While driving the vehicle, you committed an unlawful act, which does not amount to felonious conduct, or a legal act in a sub-par manner;
    • Your conduct amounted to gross negligence, or in some cases, simple negligence; and
    • The result of your negligent, or grossly negligent conduct, while operating a vehicle, was the death of another person.
    • The next and final level of the spectrum of DUI charges is where the DUI resulted in the death of another person, and your conduct was so extreme it amounted to a reckless disregard for human life, or the high likelihood that the conduct will result in death or serious bodily harm. This is known as a “Watson” murder charge, and carries severe penalties with it.

If while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, in violation of California Vehicle Code §23152, someone dies as a result of that violation, you may be charged with violating California Penal  Code  §187;  murder.  In  this  scenario,  you  will  be  charged with  second  degree  murder,  as opposed to first degree murder.

In order to be convicted over a Watson murder charge, the Prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You acted intentionally, and that act caused the death of another;
  2. and the probable consequences of your conduct would be dangerous, or lethal, to human life; and
  3. You acted with intent, and knowledge, when you acted in a way that amounts to the reckless disregard of human life (Shooting a gun into a crowd for example, you didn’t intend to kill anyone, but you knew it would probably happen).

The  key  difference  between  first  degree  murder, and  second  degree  murder,  is  the  intent of  the defendant.  

Implied Malice

A critical aspect of a Watson  murder charge  is that you knew that driving drunk was  incredibly dangerous to human lie. The Prosecutor will need to prove this element to maintain the charges against  you.  A  Prosecutor  will  utilize  a  prior  DUI  conviction  to  prove  this  element.  Generally speaking, a person who is convicted of a prior DUI will sign a form known as a “Watson Murder".

Admonition.” This admonition will inform the individual that driving drunk has a high chance of causing  the  death  of  another  person.  Alternatively,  the  Prosecution  will  introduce  evidence  of your  attendance  at  a  DUI  class;  this  would  be  because  a  major  portion  of  the  DUI  class curriculum  centers  on  the  harm  driving  under  the  influence can  cause  to  other  people.  If  the Prosecution cannot prove this element, they will likely lose the case against you.

Penalties if convicted of a Watson Murder charge

If you are convicted of second degree murder while driving under the influence, also known as a Watson murder, you will face monetary sanctions up to $10,000 as well as incarceration ranging from 15 years to life. The penalties could be even stiffer depending on how many “strikes” you have in California.  

California’s  Three  Strikes  Law  imposes  more  strict  sentences  on  habitual  offenders.  A  second serious  felony  conviction  mandates  a  prison  sentence  of  twice  the  term  otherwise  provided  for the crime. A third serious or violent conviction mandates a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Defending yourself against a Watson Murder charge

If  you  have  been  charged  with  second  degree  murder  while  driving  under  the  influence,  also known  as  a Watson  murder  charge,  having  skilled  attorneys  on  your  side  can  provide  critical benefits  that  may  prove  to  be  the  difference  between  jail  time,  and  a  lesser  charge.  The  key components to this case involve your mental state, and prior knowledge. These are elements that subjective in nature, and skilled lawyers can convince the decision maker that your case does not fall  in  the  spectrum  a Watson  murder  charge  is  designed  to  punish.  If  you  have  been  charged with a Watson murder, contact an attorney at Los Angeles DUI Attorney Law Firm immediately for a FREE consultation at 424-285-5400.