In California, a DUI causing death could be charged as a Penal Code 187 PC “Watson” murder, Penal Code 192(c) vehicular manslaughter, or Penal Code 192(b) involuntary manslaughter.
For the past 30 years, I've been defending people who have been involved in accidents that have caused the death of other people, whether it be from driving while intoxicated on alcohol or some drug, or even a situation where they were speeding or driving recklessly and death resulted and the prosecutor charged the case as murder.
It's interesting the lines between when a PC 187 murder will be charged, when a PC 192(c) vehicular manslaughter will be charged, and when a PC 192(b) involuntary manslaughter is going to be charged.
Sometimes, they're not clearly defined, and that's when you need a powerful defense attorney on your side because I've seen cases charged as murder cases that should have been charged as vehicular manslaughter cases.
I've seen vehicular manslaughter cases in a DUI situation that should have been charged as involuntary manslaughter. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, we will examine this subject in more detail below.
What is a Watson DUI Murder under Penal Code 187 PC?
A Watson DUI murder is the California crime of implied malice murder while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It's a second-degree murder charged in cases where somebody tragically dies due to someone's intoxicated driving.
The name “Watson” is from a California appellate court decision, People v. Watson, which confirmed that a DUI defendant acting with implied malice could be charged with murder. This means you could face murder charges if you drive while under the influence and somebody is killed due to your conduct.
This murder rule allows the prosecution to charge this crime, typically as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated – second-degree murder. The intoxicant can be either drugs, alcohol, or both. The crucial question is whether the defendant acted with implied malice. If they did not, a murder charge can't be filed, and they would generally be guilty of the lesser offense of:
- Vehicle Code 191.5(b) VC vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or
- Vehicle Code 191.5(a) VC gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
However, to convict you, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime:
- you committed an act causing someone's death;
- you had a state of mind known as malice aforethought, and
- you killed somebody without lawful justification.
Malice aforethought can be either express or implied. The District Attorney will generally rely on evidence showing you exhibited implied malice.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI Murder Conviction?
A Watson murder related to driving under the influence carries the same punishments as other second-degree murders. If you are convicted, the penalties include:
- 15 years to life in a California state prison,
- a $10,000 fine, and
- a “strike” under the three-strikes law.
You could also face an additional sentence of 3 to 6 six years if any surviving victims sustained a great bodily injury, described as a significant injury.
Real DUI Death Case Example
I've seen cases charged that should not have been charged. We just won a big case where my client was pulling out about 5:00 a.m. leaving for work, and someone came flying by on a motorcycle and crashed and killing themselves. He was charged after about a year with involuntary manslaughter.
It was just a ridiculous charge. Once we got an expert on it and did what needed to be done as far as the speed of the motorcycle and just the circumstances of that intersection at that time of the morning, there was no way the prosecutors could maintain that case.
They got our expert's report that showed very clearly that the accident was not our client's fault, and they ended up dismissing the case. I've had other cases in which my client was charged with murder, and I have gotten a not guilty verdict on the murder. We argued for vehicular manslaughter because my client did do something wrong, and they did deserve to get convicted, but indeed not of murder where they're facing 15 to life or more.
Breaking Down the Details of the DUI Case
So, if you or a loved one has been resolved in a DUI that resulted in a death, this is not the time to mess around. The prosecutors and judges are very harsh on these cases and even the police. Sometimes, unfairly so.
Sometimes people don't deserve to be charged with murder or vehicular manslaughter. The key is that you're charged with the right thing if you've done something wrong and that your criminal defense attorney does everything they possibly can to keep you out of prison and jail.
What we do is break the case down. We look at everything and make the right moves on your behalf. I've been doing this for 30 years. I've worked for the District Attorney's office. I've worked for a superior court judge and been a defense attorney defending cases like yours where death has resulted, and there's a driving under the influence allegation.
I've been doing that since the early 1990s with a lot of success. I'm honest. I'm straightforward, and I know how to win under the right circumstances. When you can't win, it's time to negotiate a plea bargain.
Determining the Best DUI Defense Strategy
So, we have to sit down and have an honest discussion. If you've been charged with a death related to a DUI, get me on the case. Come in. Let's go over everything under the attorney/client privilege umbrella and figure out what your best strategy is.
I can't tell you how many people have not done what they were supposed to; they waited and ended up in a horrible situation where they could not get out. Whether they are being convicted of murder, sent away basically for life, and unable to get out. Go ahead and try to appeal. Good luck to you. You need a great attorney right from the beginning.
You need the best if you or a loved one is charged with murder or involved in death on the road related to driving under the influence allegation. Now is not the time to be cheap. Now is not the time to get one of these attorneys who doesn't know what they're doing.
That's the problem in this DUI area. That is, there are a lot of weak attorneys who do not know how to try a case. All they know how to do is resolve these little DUI cases, but when a death occurs, you can't go to one of those attorneys because they don't know how to fight. They don't have the skill or strength for it or the know-how.
Pick up the phone now. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County and offers a free case review by phone or using the contact form.