A man who is accused of being drunk at the time of a July 2017 crash that claimed the life of a forty-eight-year-old woman will soon be back in court to answer murder charges that have been filed in connection with that crash because he has a previous DUI conviction. The murder charges are being brought under the doctrine of “Watson Murder,” a rule that allows prosecutors to indict a defendant with second-degree murder for causing a fatal crash while they are driving under the influence of alcohol. The defendant in the aforementioned case signed a “Watson Advisement” after a DUI conviction five years ago, but his attorney maintains that his level of education makes it unlikely that the man understood what he was signing because there was no attorney present when he signed it, and therefore it should not be able to be used against him. The man’s attorney is also challenging the DUI charges filed in connection with the fatal crash because the defendant was not fully advised of his rights before answering questions from law enforcement officers after the wreck.
The “Watson murder” doctrine originates from People v. Watson, a 1981 California Supreme Court case that established that a drunk driver who causes a fatal accident could be found guilty of murder. Prosecutors do not usually charge a driver with “Watson Murder” unless they have multiple prior California DUI convictions and the driver has received a specific type of warning, a “Watson admonition” or “Watson advisement,” that notifies the driver that a future DUI could result in murder charges against them. Sometimes, drivers who have attended a California DUI school after a previous DUI conviction will be treated as if they have received a ‘Watson Advisement” and charged with second-degree murder after a subsequent DUI incident results in a fatal crash. The reasoning behind treating drivers who have been to DUI school like drivers who have received “Watson Advisements” is that it is presumed that drivers who attend DUI school fully comprehend the dangers of drinking and driving and the penalties that could be applied to them if they get a subsequent DUI.
Drivers who have prior DUIs but who have not received a “Watson advisement” or attended DUI school are likely to be charged gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if they cause a fatal wreck while they are intoxicated. In a “Watson murder” case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant acted with “implied malice.” A defendant who is found guilty of “Watson murder” can be punished with a sentence of fifteen years to life in prison and a ten thousand dollar fine.
If you are in a similar situation, an Orange County DUI attorney may be your best hope for a successful resolution of your DUI case.