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WHAT CAUSES A DUI TO BE CHARGED AS MURDER IN LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA?
The best way to defend a murder charge is to show that either the accident and resultant death were someone else’s fault or that the person who is charged with the murder was not involved in conduct that rises to the legal of a murder filing. In my experience, the best way to evaluate these type of cases is to compare the evidence that will be argued by the prosecutors and defense to the law that exists and then assess how a jury will react to the evidence on both sides. Also, by looking at specifically what the defendant did, we can get a feel for how a jury will likely react.
Accidents happen all the time on our highways. What turns an accident into a crime relates to how dangerous the person was driving before the accident and whether they had taken any substance which affected their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. When someone dies in an accident, the authorities are much more likely to file a criminal charge than in just a normal fender bender.
In deciding whether to file the case as a murder or a vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutors will look at whether they have a strong argument that the defendant knew he or she could possibly get into an accident and kills someone if they drank alcohol and drove. This is why all of the courts in Los Angeles County are specifically telling all defendants that plead guilty to DUI’s that drinking alcohol and driving is dangerous to human life and that if they do it and a death results from there actions, then they could be charged with murder. This is called the Watson advisement and is very effective in a later murder trial.
The dividing line between murder and manslaughter, in relation to a DUI that causes death, is a murky one at best. When I do jury trials, I see the jury asking questions related to the law that make it clear they are confused about the instructions the judge has given them. The language that is used does not usually give the jury or trier of fact a clear idea of when they should find a person guilty of murder (which carries a sentence of 15-life) or some sort of manslaughter charge (which carries a significantly less penalty).
In order for the prosecutors to prove that a person who drank alcohol and caused an accident is guilty of murder, they must show that the person acted with a wanton disregard for human life. The jury will be evaluating whether the subject person knew or reasonably should have know that by drinking alcohol and driving that it was reasonably foreseeable that they could later end up in an accident which killed someone. This is a subjective thought pattern on the part of the defendant and the jury will be looking at evidence from both sides in making their final decision.
In order to find a person guilty of murder the prosecutors must show that the particular person possessed the intent to kill. Most people have a strong argument in a DUI crash that they never intended to kill anyone. However, the legislature has passed law that allows a jury to infer the necessary intent if the prosecutors can prove that there is what is know as “implied malice”. Meaning, even though a person did not specifically intend to kill anyone, the tried of fact can imply the malice necessary for a murder charge if they can show that the person acted with such a callous disregard for human like, that they should be charged with murder.
This falls under the umbrella of what is called a depraved heart killing. In other words, someone who is acting so dangerous and careless that we are are not going to let them hide behind the fact that they were drunk on alcohol. The best way to evaluate these cases is to sit down in front of a seasoned DUI defense attorney who has been down the road you are about to travel and had success.