Watson DUI Murder In 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 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 types of cases is to compare the evidence that the prosecutors and defense will argue to the law that exists and then assess how a jury will react to the evidence on both sides. Also, we can feel how a jury will likely respond by looking at precisely what the defendant did.
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 that affected their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
When someone dies in an accident, the authorities are more likely to file a criminal charge than just a typical fender bender.
In deciding whether to file a case like murder or vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutors will examine whether they have a strong argument that the defendant knew they could get into an accident and kill someone if they drank alcohol drove.
This is why all of the courts in Los Angeles County are specifically telling all defendants that plead guilty to DUIs that drinking alcohol and driving is dangerous to human life and that if they do it. A death results from their actions, then they could be charged with murder. This is called the Watson advisement and is very effective in a later murder trial.
Murder vs. Vehicular Manslaughter Charges
At best, the dividing line between murder and manslaughter, about a DUI that causes death, is a murky one. When I do jury trials, I see the jury asking questions related to the law that make it clear they are confused about the judge's instructions.
The language 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 to life) or some manslaughter charge (which has a significantly lower penalty).
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 evaluate whether the subject person knew or reasonably should have known that by drinking alcohol and driving, it was reasonably foreseeable that they could later end up in an accident that killed someone.
This is a subjective thought pattern on the defendant's part, and the jury will be looking at evidence from both sides in making their final decision.
To find a person guilty of murder, the prosecutors must show that the person intended to kill. Most people have a strong argument in a DUI crash that they never intended to kill anyone.
However, the legislature has passed a law that allows a jury to infer the necessary intent if the prosecutors can prove that there is what is known as “implied malice.”
This means that even though a person did not 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 life that they should be charged with murder.
This falls under the umbrella of what is called depraved heart killing. In other words, someone is acting so dangerous and careless that we will not 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.
What Are the Best Defenses for DUI Causing Death?
If you or a loved one is charged with a DUI that caused a death, you're either accused of a felony or vehicular manslaughter.
If you're unfortunate enough for the prosecutors to believe you were intoxicated and deserve to be charged with murder, then you or your loved one will be charged with second-degree murder related to a DUI death.
You're going to need a strong criminal defense attorney on your side. Don't be satisfied with one of these weak DUI attorneys that all they do is DUIs because those guys 90+ of the time are just negotiating weak cases.
When it comes to these more severe cases, they're way out of their league, in my experience. You want to get a battle-tested warrior to defend you or your loved one.
The first question will be, what was your blood alcohol level? Were you using drugs? Sometimes I've even seen situations where there are no drugs or alcohol, and the person was driving recklessly and killed somebody. The prosecutors are charging that as second-degree murder or vehicular manslaughter.
So, we first have to see what you did and your blood alcohol level, and then I can give you an idea of what range you fall in. The more dangerous you were on the road, the more like the prosecutors would try and throw the book at you. Another thing we're going to have to look at is your prior criminal record.
If you've got prior DUIs and were advised you were given the Watson's warnings, you can bet you'll be charged with second-degree murder if you were driving under the influence and killed somebody.
When they do the waiver forms and all of the courts in LA County, and across California for that manner, they warn you that drinking and driving is dangerous to human life, and if you drink and drive and kill somebody, you could be charged with second-degree murder. So they're giving that warning, so if you do it, when the jury goes back to deliberate, they will know that you were warned of that while you were sober and did it anyway.
So, it's interesting how the prosecutors figure out which cases are DUIs that result in death are charged as vehicular versus second-degree murder versus even involuntary manslaughter, which is just mere negligence and death resulted.
Usually, suppose you're drinking and driving, and your blood alcohol level is .08 or greater, and you kill somebody. In that case, you will be charged with vehicular manslaughter, second-degree murder, or both.
On the other hand, if you have no alcohol, no drugs, and you're just driving recklessly, you commit some traffic violation and kill somebody, you'll likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
So you've come to the right place, somebody with much experience and has also done many trials. I am battle tested. I do know how to handle these cases.
I know how to stand up for my clients against the prosecutors and also learn how to negotiate with some of the top prosecutors because that's what will happen when you have some of these more severe cases when people die. Usually, the upper-echelon prosecutors are the ones that are going to decide on what happens to a defendant.
How to Get the Best Result in a Watson DUI Murder Case?
This concept of a California PC 187 second-degree Watson murder typically involves somebody driving under the influence of alcohol or some other substance and ending up killing somebody on the road.
I've also seen it filed in LA County and surrounding counties for people driving recklessly and killing another person, even if they don't have any alcohol or drugs in their system. So, figuring out how to defend these cases is difficult because they can also be charged as vehicular manslaughter.
A lot of these cases are over-filed, especially by the District Attorney's office in LA County, which files every single case where there's a death on the road as a Watson murder if the person was drinking alcohol or using some other substance that caused them not safe to operate a motor vehicle.
Were You Intoxicated?
First, the question becomes whether or not you were intoxicated and killed somebody. If that's the case and they can prove that, then we will take a different approach than if you have a defense of the case, you can beat them.
Set the case for prelim. Fight it. Chop down their case or get it dismissed at the preliminary hearing. Then, you can take the case to trial before a jury and show the jury that you're innocent.
Should We Mitigate the Case?
If that's not an option for us because you were intoxicated and death occurred, our strategy will be to mitigate the case.
We're going to get character letters for you. Then, as your defense attorney, I will show the other side of the coin – what happened, why it happened – and hopefully, there are some mitigating circumstances surrounding your case that we can use to show that this is an aberration. It shouldn't have happened. It's never going to happen again.
This is the mindset we need to have when defending these Watson murder cases because if you get convicted, the judge has to give you at least a sentence of 15 to life.
So, that's where things become very scary, and the prosecutors have much power when they file these cases because of the horrible downside to taking the case to trial and losing.
Meeting with Head Prosecutor
So, let me be the one that puts the mitigation package together. I'll let you know what we need to be successful. Then, I will meet with the head prosecutor of whatever courthouse the case is pending.
They are going to be the ones who decide on whether the case is going to remain charged as a Watson murder or some other lesser charge, like vehicular manslaughter, is going to apply to your case.
If you need the best, you've come to the right place. So pick up the phone now. Let me put my 30 years of experience defending Watson murder-type cases to work for you and figure out the best road.
Once you meet with me in the privacy of my office, you'll feel a lot more comfortable and in control because you'll know exactly where your case is headed and how we will get there. So pick up the phone now. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.
- Charged With DUI Murder If They Didn't Mean To Kill Anybody?
- What Type Of Knowledge is Needed To Get a DUI Murder Charge?
- When Can a DUI Case be Elevated To a Second Degree Murder?
- What Happens If My DUI Involved Someone's Death?
- DUI Causing Death Defense In California
- How to Defend a Watson DUI Murder Charge
- New LA District Attorney Policy on DUI Murder Charges
- What Am I Facing If My DUI Caused a Death?