You will be charged with multiple crimes if you drive a motor vehicle in Titus while drunk or drugged and cause an accident that results in the death of an individual. If you were not at fault for the accident, you would face simple DUI charges. If you are at fault and depending on the nature of your case, you might face vehicular manslaughter or Watson murder charges. If you are facing any of these DUI charges, get in touch with our attorneys at the San Diego DUI Attorney for legal help.
In the event of a homicide or injury in an accident involving drunk driving, you are not likely to face a common DUI charge. Naturally, you might face DUI causing injury, vehicular manslaughter, or Watson murder charges. But for you to end up with a conviction for these charges, the prosecution must prove the elements of a simple DUI. It is because of this reason that there is a need to acquaint yourself with simple DUI.
The elements the prosecutor will need to convict you of a typical DUI are:
You drove a motor vehicle
While driving, your BAC was 0.08% or you were drunk or drugged.
In case the above aspects of DUI are proven, you will end up with a conviction under VC 23152. A sentence will attract penalties including:
Jail or prison incarceration
Drug or alcohol treatment program
Driver’s license suspension
The above sentences can be prevented if you contest the charges by arguing that you were not under the influence or you were not operating a vehicle. A profound defense attorney can support these defense theories well and have the charges reduced or removed.
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
PC 191.5 is the statute that defines this crime. You will be subject to prosecution per this law if you cause death during a DUI accident. The nature of the case will determine the charges that will be preferred against you by the prosecution. Typically, you will be subject to a felony or misdemeanor charge.
You will get a conviction for VMWI if the prosecution can prove all the elements of a simple DUI mentioned above. Additionally, the prosecutor has the burden to demonstrate to the court that you caused the death of a person. To do that, they must prove that on top of DUI, you portrayed negligence or unlawful conduct like running a stop sign or red light and speeding. It shows that a DUI collision resulting in a fatality isn’t enough to convict you of PC 191.5 violation. The at-fault party might have been the cause of death and not you.
Not that you must be very careful when DUI accidents occur, and someone dies. The police usually assume that the person who was DUI is the one responsible for the death which is not typically accurate. It means that even the police report, which is often the primary evidence the prosecution uses to convict you might be biased and this might result in a conviction though you are innocent. For this reason, you need a Titus DUI Attorney who will ensure the actual cause of the accident is determined without any biases. That way, you will avoid a conviction for a violation of PC 191.5 if a third party was responsible for the accident.
A misdemeanor sentence for this crime is punishable by no more than twelve months in jail. A felony conviction, on the other hand, will attract a punishment of as much as 48 months’ prison sentence.
Watson Murder or Second Degree Murder
PC 187 is the law that defines Watson Murder, which is the most serious DUI charge. You will be subject to this charge if you have a previous DUI conviction and kill someone in a DUI accident. The name Watson originates from a court ruling in 1981 involving the People Vs. Watson. In the case, the court ruled that anybody who causes death in a DUI accident should be charged with murder if he or she acted with implied malice.
In most cases, people who face murder charges are those that have killed intentionally. Therefore, it is a surprise for many people to face murder charges for killing someone in a DUI accident, whereas death was unintentional.
For you to understand Watson Murder, it is essential to familiarize yourself with murder law. California law defines murder as the illegal killing of another person with malice aforethought.
The commission of any crime requires the act itself and the state of mind. In murder, killing another person is the act, while malice aforethought is the state of mind. Malice aforementioned has two categories that are implied and express malice. If you killed someone with intent, then that falls under the category of express malice. If the killing wasn’t intended, then it is implied malice.
First Vs. Second Degree Murder
These two categories of murder require malice aforethought. But you will end up with a conviction for first-degree murder if you killed a human being intentionally or where a death occurs during the commission of a dangerous and independent felony. If you look at the two ways of ending up with a murder conviction, none of them is possible in an accident caused by drunk or drugged driving.
Second-degree murder focuses on all other murders; hence the reason why Watson murder falls under this category.
Implied Malice in a DUI Murder Case
As mentioned above, implied malice doesn’t require any ill will against the victim to cause death. You act with implied malice if you intentionally drive under the influence knowing that engaging in such an act endangers human life and you went ahead to act in conscious disregard of human life.
Proving DUI Murder
For you to get a conviction for killing a person while driving under the influence, the prosecutor must establish the following facts:
You engaged in deliberate drunk or drugged driving killing a human being
The standard and possible consequences of driving under the influence were a risk to the lives of others.
You knowingly acted in mindful disregard of human life
Keep in mind that in this case, intent to kill is not crucial in Watson Murder, which is what differentiates this crime from first-degree murder. The prosecutor focuses more on proving that you as the defendant, acted in conscious disregard of human life which is implied malice.
For the prosecution to prove implied malice, they must demonstrate that you knew the dangers of DUI. Some of the things the prosecutor will need to show in this case include:
During your prior DUI conviction, you read or signed a Watson admonition
You attended a mandatory DUI school program ordered by the court after your previous DUI sentence.
You had specialized knowledge of the risks or dangers of DUI. This element applies to police officers or other professionals who have an in-depth understanding of the risks of DUI.
These elements have been further discussed below.
You were Given a Watson Admonition in Your Prior DUI Conviction
In a sentencing hearing, the judge reads you the admonition. If the warning is not read to you, the judge will ask you to sign a Tahl warning. Before signing the form, you should read through what is in it. The purpose of signing the form is to declare that you understand that drunk or drugged driving or both impair your ability to drive a motorized vehicle safely and it’s hazardous to human life to operate a car when drunk or drugged. The Tahl warning further reads that if you continue DUI of drugs or alcohol and in the process, a DUI accident occurs, killing a person, you will be charged with DUI murder.
By putting your signature on the form, it is a sign you have received Watson advisement. The prosecutor will prove that you were given the warning in your prior DUI sentencing by:
Introducing the Tahl warning that you signed during the sentencing hearing
Introducing the court docket indicating that the judge read the Watson advisement during sentencing.
You Attended a DUI School
After a DUI sentencing, the court might impose mandatory DUI school. The course materials of the program focus on educating offenders on the dangers of DUI. For the prosecutor to prove implied malice, the prosecution will avail the course outline and records of the program that warned you of the risks of DUI, thus sentencing you of the crime.
You had Specialized Knowledge
In recent days, even if you don’t have a prior DUI conviction, the prosecution can charge you with Watson murder if you kill a person in a DUI accident. The argument by the prosecution is that professionals like police officers and paramedics have specialized knowledge of the risks DUI has on human life. For this reason, any person considered to have specialized experience of dangers DUI will be subject to DUI murder charges if they kill a person because of their actions.
The action by the prosecution is overcharging, and it is meant to force the defendant to accept a lesser charge, such as VMWI. Very few defendants will recognize this is a trap. If you have a Titus DUI Attorney on your side, he or she will help you realize the plan by the prosecution to put pressure under pressure by overcharging, thus avoiding the trap.
Standard Features of a Watson Murder Case
Certain factors increase the possibility of being charged with Watson Murder. The prosecutor is likely to charge you with this crime if:
You had multiple DUI of drugs or alcohol convictions
You had a high BAC level of not less than .15% at the time of driving
You had a pre-drinking intent to operate a car
You have exceptional knowledge of the risks of driving while drugged or drunk
You engaged in extremely reckless driving, such as participating in a speed contest, speeding, or felony reckless driving while evading a peace officer.
If the prosecutor can’t establish these facts before the court, they will prefer a lesser charge like VMWI.
Penalties of a California Watson Murder
DUI murder is punishable by:
California state prison incarceration for between fifteen years to life
A court fine not beyond ten thousand dollars
A strike on your criminal record
Keep in mind that when you have a strike on your criminal history, a subsequent felony offense will subject you to double the sentence required by the law. And where you have two strikes and commit another felony offense that warrants a strike, you will be punishable by a mandatory sentence term of twenty-five years to life in prison.
If you have been convicted of DUI murder and there are survivors of the DUI accident who sustained injuries, you will face additional and consecutive prison time. Where the survivors sustained significant bodily injury, you will serve an added and successive prison sentence of three to six years for every survivor victim of your DUI accident. If the survivor victims sustained minor injuries, you would serve an additional penalty of between 12 to 36 months for each survivor victim of the crash.
Defenses for Second Degree Watson Murder
There are several defense strategies your Titus DUI Attorney can use to contest the charges of DUI murder. The defenses include:
You didn’t Drive Under the Influence
For you to end up with a conviction for a PC 187 violation, the prosecution has the burden of establishing that you engaged in drunk or drugged driving. An excellent Titus DUI Attorney can contest that the DA has not met the burden by using various factors.
First, if you were charged with the offense because you portrayed symptoms of intoxication, the attorney can argue that symptoms were a result of an underlying health condition. The argument is going to hold in court because in most cases when arresting officers appear before the court to testify, they claim that your appearance showed signs of intoxication at the time of the traffic stop. Some of the symptoms include slurred speech, blurred vision, or bloodshot eyes. Although they are all signs of intoxication, they can be due to other things like allergies. If the attorney can argue your appearance was not due to drugs or alcohol, you might face a lesser charge.
To prove that you were not under the influence, your DUI defense attorney can assert that the field sobriety tests conducted by the arresting officer were unreliable. He or she can claim that you failed the tests because of poor memory, coordination and lack of balance. Something unrelated to being drunk or high on drugs could be the reason you were unable to perform in the tests.
You can also support the fact that you were not under the influence, by making the judge or jury question the reliability of the breathalyzer test. Breathalyzers are devices used by law enforcement to test the BAC level of a person by measuring the amount of alcohol on the breath. If you can prove the test results of the devices are not valid, then you will succeed in showing that you were not intoxicated at the time of the traffic stop.
Your Actions Were Not The Cause of Death
The majority of people who end up facing accusations of DUI murder are charged just because they were drunk or stoned when the accident occurred. The law enforcement has the assumption that whenever an accident occurs involving a drunk or drugged driver, the intoxicated driver is at fault. A Titus DUI Attorney can argue that although you were under the influence during the collision, another party’s negligence caused the accident; hence your actions didn’t result in the death.
A conviction for DUI murder happens if your actions, which are driving under the influence, were a substantial factor that led to the death of another person. If the prosecution is unable to link the demise with your actions, you will walk free because the charge will be thrown out of the case.
Lack of Implied Malice
A mental state of implied consent is necessary for the prosecution to convict one of DUI murder. The prosecution must prove that you were aware that drunk or drugged driving poses the danger of injuries or death to human life but still went ahead with the act. As proof to support that you knew the risks, they will provide the Watson advisement you signed or course material for the DUI school.
It’s not in every conviction that the convict is given the Watson admonition or sentenced to DUI school. Therefore, if you didn’t get any of these, your Titus DUI Attorney can assert that you had a prior DUI conviction, but you had no knowledge about the risks of drunk or drugged driving. In case you were given the warning, your attorney can argue that you didn’t understand the nature of the substance you were signing especially if the judge didn’t read the Watson advisement for you in court. If you attended a DUI program, the attorney could claim that the course material in the program wasn’t enough to prove you knew the risks of DUI.
Find a DUI Defense Attorney Near Me
DUI murder is a serious offense. If you are in Titus and have been accused of DUI, reach out to the San Diego DUI Attorney team at 619-535-7150 for a zero-obligation consultation. Let us evaluate your case and advise you on the best course of action.