What Happens If My DUI Involved Someone's Death?
More and more, prosecutors in Los Angeles county, Orange county — throughout California — are filing murder cases against people who were drinking and driving and end up causing a death.
People don't really think in these terms because they figure if they were drinking and driving and really didn't intend to kill anybody, how could they possibly be charged with murder.
It's a second-degree murder charge because it's basically stating that you had malice by how you were acting and you ended up killing somebody.
If you are convicted of that, you'll serve a fifteen to life sentence in prison which means you'll serve 85% of fifteen years and then you'll be eligible for patrol, but you won't necessarily be let out by the judge or by the parole board.
You come up in front of the parole board and the parole board will decide each year whether they let you out or not. If you've killed somebody they may decide never to let you out.
Driving in a Reckless Manner
So, when you talk about these DUI death cases in Los Angeles county, I can tell you right now, if somebody is driving and they kill somebody and they're either driving with alcohol or drugs in their system.
Then, now, believe it or not — even if they don't have drugs or alcohol in their system — if they're driving in a wanton/reckless manner, going through red lights, going 100 miles an hour and they kill somebody — I'm seeing prosecutors in Los Angeles file not DUI-related charges, but they're going to file a murder case.
Basically, they're going to say that you were driving in a wanton/reckless manner so we're going to infer malice on your part and we're going to charge you with murder.
People think there's no way you can be convicted of that and that doesn't make any sense, but the bottom line is this.
The law is there. They're able to do it. They can get that malice of forethought.
They've got the death and now you're being charged with murder. Think about it. Do you think a jury is going to have sympathy if you were either drinking and driving or using drugs and driving or just driving like a maniac on the street and kill somebody?
Especially if you end up killing somebody who is sympathetic — a mother, a father a priest — I mean almost anybody. Life is so precious.
Here in California, if you're driving and affecting others and you end up killing somebody, a jury is not going to have any sympathy for you whatsoever. So, they're likely — even close cases — to bridge the gap and find you guilty.
Defending DUI Murder Charges
So, if you're charged with murder related to DUI or reckless driving, pick up the phone. Make the call and we'll sit down and talk. I've handled a lot of these cases. I've tried them at a trial level.
I've argued the jury instructions (CALCRIM 591) and questioned the jurors about it. I have a pretty good idea about how they resolve these cases and then of course, I've negotiated with the prosecutors.
The top prosecutors usually handle these DUI death cases. I talk to them all the time and we get into whether or not someone who drank alcohol or used drugs/some sort of substance — even marijuana — and ended up killing somebody, whether that person really deserves fifteen to life.
A lot of times I'm able to convince them. They know they don't deserve fifteen to life.
That should be reserved for people who set out to kill somebody or get angry and end up killing somebody — not for people who are drinking and driving, using drugs and driving.
Those people certainly deserve to be punished because they've killed somebody and they obviously should have thought ahead before they ingested anything and got behind the wheel, but we have a pretty good argument that that really shouldn't be a murder case.
But listen, they're not just going to look at what you did in your present case. They're going to look at your past.
Hopefully for you, you have a squeaky clean past. You have a family. You have a job.
You have all the good things because then we can start to argue that this could be anybody and now you're going to hit the guy with a murder charge? You're going to put him on the same level as somebody who goes and intentionally kills somebody? That's going too far.
Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
So, we've got some very good arguments, but really what you need — and in my opinion, there aren't many attorneys who have a lot of experience in this area — because these cases are serious when you're faced with a murder charge. A lot of these criminal defense lawyers out there are afraid. They don't want to deal with them.
They don't have the type of experience that I have where I've been doing this for 26 years. Worked for the DA's office. Worked for a Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles and I've been battle-tested for 26 years, since 1994.
I've been a criminal defense attorney fighting for my clients in and out of court — over 200 jury trials and thousands of DUI cases and I've really been involved with this whole transition.
Usually to file somebody with a murder charge on a DUI case, you're going to have to prove that they knew how dangerous it was to drive. They have prior DUI's and they were educated in the class and the class tells them this is what happens.
You could kill somebody. That's how it used to be.
Now prosecutors say no, no, no. We're not going to do that anymore. The bottom line is now everybody knows it's dangerous to drink and drive, smoke marijuana and drive, use drugs and drive.
So, if you kill somebody, we're just going to assume that you should have known better and we're going to punish you accordingly and all jurors know the same thing. They've seen on social media people are getting charged with murder. They know how dangerous it is to drink and drive.
They know what the statistics are. Like I said, they don't really have much sympathy for people who kill other people, even if it is by accident because they figure that you should have known what could happen if you were going to drink and drive and just make your plans while you were sober.
You can't fall back on being drunk and not being able to remember what happened. You should have known before you even started drinking that your car is out there. You're going to have to drive it.
Don't do it. Take Uber. Take a taxi. Walk. Call a friend. The list goes on and on. This is the mentality that you're up against — the mentality that your attorney is up against.
So, if you want help and you need somebody who's a heavy-hitter, handled these cases before, pick up the phone and call me, Ron Hedding. I've been doing this a long time. I stand at the ready to help you.