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If a death occurs related to a DUI in Los Angeles then the prosecutor will have to make a decision on how they want to file the case. In some circumstances they determine that it is appropriate to file the case as a vehicular manslaughter case. While in other cases, they decide that the conduct of the defendant was so egregious that it warrants a second degree murder charge. The difference between the charges will be life altering for the particular defendant. If the case is filed as a second degree murder charge, then they will be facing fifteen years to life in state prison.
In deciding how to file a particular case, the prosecutors will be assessing whether the particular defendant appreciated or understood the high level of danger that is involved when someone drinks alcohol and drives a vehicle. They will also look at exactly what the defendant did in the subject case and their danger level to the public.
As I defend DUI cases in Los Angeles I can see and hear judges throughout the county telling those people who plead guilty to a DUI that if they drink alcohol again and drive and someone ends up being killed, as a result of their actions, then the prosecutors can charge them with second degree murder. This is what is known as a “Watson Warning” and it is quite effective in a future prosecution for murder when the prosecutors can show that the defendant was told in a court of law just how truly dangerous it is to drink alcohol and drive a car.
I hear all the time in society that we should not have an eye for an eye mentality in our life. However, in the scenario where someone causes the death of another because they drank alcohol and caused a death, that is exactly what I see going on. The prosecutors file the case and make every effort they can to put the offending driver away for the rest of their life.
What is so difficult to comprehend related to persons being sentenced to life in prison for DUI related offenses is that much of it relies on fate and unluckiness. I can not tell you how many times I see people driving recklessly an being arrested for a DUI and not having to serve a day in jail. While other times I see the exact same conduct or driving that is less offensive to the reasonable person and that person ends up killing someone and is facing the rest of their life in prison.
This is why it is so important, in my opinion, that you hire an attorney who has been down this road before and had success. Negotiating with the prosecutors in case like this should be done by the best criminal defense attorneys who have handled cases like this and can speak from experience and argue for their clients in such a way that the prosecutors see the other side of the story.
Humanizing your client in these type of situations is extremely important and can mean the difference between the worst possible outcome and one that everyone can live with under the circumstances. This includes character letters from friends, family and colleagues. It also includes letting the prosecutor know exactly what happened related to the subject drinking and driving. And, hopefully showing the prosecutor that the defendant’s conduct does not rise to the level of a murder charge being filed. This can be done by evaluating and explaining the person’s history and the facts and circumstances leading up to the accident that caused the death.
The procedure that I use in these cases is to meet with the client face to face and go over everything related to the subject accident, so I can see their side of what happened and why. I will also review all of the discovery related to the case and discuss it with the assigned prosecutor. I will be trying to get a feel for how the prosecutor views the case and what we can do on our end to convince the prosecutor not to seek the harshest possible penalties and charges.
Once I have evaluated everything, then myself and the client sit down and decide exactly what we think is a fair and realistic way to handle the case. If we believe that the best way to handled it is to fight and have a jury trial, then we will set in motion an investigation and preparation of a defense strategy that makes sense. If, on the other hand, we believe that it is best to negotiate a resolution, then we will decide what the client’s bottom line is related to the charges and punishment and I will use my experience and skills to try and achieve the result desired.