DUI homicide is charged on drivers who cause death while driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Also, you are more likely to be charged with this offense if you have a prior DUI conviction in California. A conviction for DUI homicide in California attracts severe penalties in terms of jail time and fines. Moreover, your social and professional life may be affected by such a charge in your record. If you are facing a Watson murder charge, it will be wise to seek legal representation. At San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm, we are ready to guide you through the legal process. Our top-notch attorneys will help you develop a credible defense and navigate the criminal charges brought against you.

Legal Definition of DUI Homicide in California

Under California Penal Code 187, DUI, homicide occurs when you are driving under the influence of drugs and cause an accident, which results in death. DUI homicide, also known as Watson murder, is charged as second-degree murder and can be charged o individuals with a prior conviction for DUI. The prosecutor must prove the following elements which show implied malice:

  1. You committed an intentional act that resulted in the death of someone else. The prosecutor has to show that you knowingly consumed enough alcohol resulting in a BAC of 0.08%, which constitutes DUI. Also, they should indicate that your actions were affected by intoxication, and the driving conduct caused the death of another person. Any time you drive while intoxicated, you are considered to have a pre-drinking intent to drive.                                     
  2. You knew that your actions of driving under the influence of drugs pose a danger to human life. The prosecutor can argue that the accident which caused death resulted from overspending, driving recklessly, or running the red light. Such behavior is often a consequence of driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. This evidence will be apparent that the natural result of your actions was a threat to human life.
  3. Your actions disregarded the danger you were posing to the victim. To show that you overlooked the threat to human life, the prosecutor must show that you were aware of the risk of drunk driving. By driving recklessly or overspending from the intoxication, you the threat you are posing to other road users.

The prosecution needs to prove all three elements of crime before you can get a conviction for DUI homicide in California. However, to be convicted for a Watson murder, an intent to kill is not required. This is because the offense is charged as second-degree murder. Moreover, the prosecutor will have to show implied malice in your actions. For DUI murder, your disregard o the dangers of drunk driving must be apparent.

The prosecutor will use the following means to establish implied malice in your case:

  • You read and signed a warning in a prior DUI conviction. If you are convicted for a DUI offense in California, you will receive a Watson advisement. During the sentencing, the document will be read to you, and sometimes you may need to sign the form. By introducing the signed document and the court docket, the prosecutor will be able to show that the Watson advisement was read out to you.
  • You attended a court-ordered DUI School for a prior conviction. In most cases, a conviction for a DUI offense will require you to attend a mandatory DUI program. Attendance to DUI School will prove that you were aware of the risks that accompany drunk driving. Also, this can satisfy the implied malice required to convict you for DUI homicide. The prosecutor will produce course records and materials used in DUI School. If the records show the risk of drunk driving was talked about, they will establish implied malice.
  • Prosecutors tend to charge Watson murder in many cases. Most of the time, they will want to pressure you so you can accept other charges. This will be the case if they believe you had specialized knowledge to understand the dangers of drunk driving.

In California, some facts and circumstances will increase the chance of conviction for DUI homicide, including:

  1. Prior Convictions for DUI. If you have multiple prior convictions for DUI, the prosecutor will conclude that you were well aware of the risk of driving under the influence of drugs. In this case, implied malice is easily proven, and you can be convicted for a Watson murder.
  2. You drove with a blood alcohol content of 0.15% or higher. Operating with such a high BAC means a high level of intoxication. This increases the risk of accidents, which could be fatal for other road users. Driving with a high Blood Alcohol Content will increase the likelihood of facing DUI homicide charges after a deadly accident.

Penalties for California DUI Homicide Charges 

If you are tried and coveted for Watson murder in California, you will face penalties including:

  • Fifteen years to life impressment in California State Prison
  • Fines not exceeding ten thousand dollars($10,000)
  • A strike under California’s Three Strikes Law on your record. This is likely to result in a double sentence in subsequent convictions for felony offenses. Also, more than two strikes on your record will trigger a twenty-five years prison sentence.

If other victims survived the accident, you would have an enhanced sentence amounting to three to six years for every victim who suffered severe bodily injuries. Also, if other victims suffered minor injuries, you will have an addition of one to three years sentence for each victim.

Legal Defenses against DUI Homicide

If you are facing DUI homicide charges, you will automatically be convicted. With the help of a knowledgeable DUI attorney, you can formulate defenses to your case. Mounting a defense to Watson murder in California involves challenging the arrest procedures, intoxication, and other procedures involved when obtaining evidence. The following are defenses you can use for your case

  1. Challenging Chemical test Procedures and Results

Blood and breath tests results are the essential pieces of evidence presented against you in a DUI related offense. With the help of your attorney, you can challenge the credibility of breath and blood tests. When taking a breath, blood tests as well as a field sobriety test, some procedures need to be followed. If the process was not followed correctly, you could argue that the results from these tests were not credible. Also, if your BAC was lower than the legal limit, you can say that your conduct was not impaired by alcohol

  1. Lack of Implied Malice in your Actions

Implied malice is a crucial element of a Watson murder. The prosecutor will prove implied malice by showing that you knew the risk of drunk driving. If you have prior convictions for DUI, you will get a Watson admonition. If the prosecutor cannot show proof that you were given the warning, they cannot prove the implied malice in your conduct.

Also, it should be clear that you learned the risks of drunk driving from DUI School. If you were not sentenced to DUI School, the prosecution might not be able to prove your knowledge on the dangers of DUI successfully.

  1. You did not Cause the Accident

Driving under the influence of drugs is not always a guarantee that you are responsible for the accident. Especially when the accident involves many vehicles, you can easily be mistaken for the culprit. You can argue that you did not cause the accident that resulted in death. Your attorney can help you go back to the accident scene and figure out what happened at the time of the crash. If you are facing DUI homicide charges, it would be wise to seek legal representation.

  1. You were not Under the Influence of Drugs

If you were not under the influence of drugs when the accident occurred, you could not be charged with DUI homicide. Moreover, you can disregard the results of the chemical tests. If there is a fault in the way the tests were taken, they may not be credible evidence in your case. If no one saw you driving, you can argue that you were not the person driving when the accident occurred. With the help of a skilled DUI attorney, you can successfully discredit the fact you drove the vehicle and caused an accident.

  1. Lack of proof of your Reckless Conduct

The prosecutor needs to prove that your conduct was reckless before a conviction for DUI homicide. Many other factors could cause a fatal accident other than the driver’s recklessness. These factors include weather, road defects, or poor lighting. You can argue that your conduct was not too extreme to constitute recklessness. However, even if you don’t get convicted for Watson murder, you can be charged with DUI or vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. 

DUI Homicide Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding DUI homicide in California.

What is the difference between first and second-degree murder?

Under California law, first-degree murder involves willful or deliberate killing, while a second-degree murder is killing that occurs as a result of negligence. If you planned to kill another person, you would be charged with a first-degree murder, which is more severe and attracts severe penalties. DUI homicide is charged as a second-degree murder in California.

Will my sentence be enhanced if the survivors were severely injured but did not die?

Yes. Sometimes an accident caused by your drunk driving will cause death and leave other people with severe injuries. If surviving victims are nursing a severe bodily injury, you will face a three to six years additional prison sentence. However, if the surviving victims suffer minor injuries, you will receive an additional one-year sentence. The additional sentence you get from causing injuries will be served after completing the DUI homicide sentence.

What is a Watson Advisement?

A Watson advisement is a document read to you by the judge during a DUI conviction. This makes it easier for any DUI manslaughter to be charged as a murder. When it is proven that you signed a Watson advisement, the prosecutor will quickly determine your knowledge of the dangers of drunk driving. By signing the document, you consent to be charged with DUI homicide in case a person dies from your drunk driving.

How many Prior convictions for DUI do I need to be charged with a Second Degree murder?

To be convicted for second-degree murder, you do not need to have a prior DUI conviction. Implied malice is the main element that requires to be proven during a sentence. However, the evidence of a prior DUI conviction will help the prosecutor prove that you knew the risks which accompany drunk driving.

What is a strike under Three Strikes Law?

California criminal law is stringent of repeat offenders for DUI. California Three Strikes Law seeks to enhance punishment for repeat offenders of violent crimes. DUI homicide is considered a severe offense under California Penal Code 187, which counts as a strike on your record. A conviction for a second strike offense can double your penalties with reference to the Three Strikes Law.

Can my DUI homicide charges be reduced to a lesser offense?

Yes. To be convicted for California Watson murder, the prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime. If any of the elements are not shown, you will not be held liable for the offense. With the help of a competent DUI attorney, your charge can be reduced to a lesser offense or entirely dismissed.

DUI Homicide Related Offenses in California

DUI Watson murder is one of the felony crimes you can be charged with when someone dies from an accident caused by drunk driving. Other offenses that could be charged instead of DUI homicide are:

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

Under Penal Code 191.5(b) of California, Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated occurs when a drunk driver negligently causes death to another person. To be convicted for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the prosecutor must prove that:

  1. You drove a vehicle while under the influence of drugs. In California, intoxication is proven by the results of the blood alcohol test. If your BAC exceeds 0.08%, which is the legal limit, you are considered to be under the influence of alcohol. The BAC legal limit for underage drivers is 0.05%. Also, if your deriving conduct was impaired by alcohol use or consumption of other drugs, the prosecutor will prove intoxication.
  2. You committed a lawful act that caused death. You will be held liable for vehicular manslaughter if while driving under the influence of drugs, you committed a minor infraction which caused the death
  3. Your actions were negligent. Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a crime that occurs out of ordinary negligence. The prosecutor must prove that you did not use reasonable care to prevent harm to another person.
  4. Your negligence caused death. A vehicular manslaughter charge could not be valid if death did not occur. Regardless of the level of injuries, the prosecutor must prove that your negligent conduct resulted in the death of someone else.

In California, vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligee can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on your criminal history and the circumstances of the case. As a misdemeanor, a conviction for this offense will trigger informal probation. Also, you may serve jail sentence not exceeding one year or pay fines of up to $1,000. However, if you are convicted for a felony charge, you will face more severe penalties. The penalties include formal probation, up to four years in state prison, and a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars.

Also, a conviction for a felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated will trigger an automatic one-year license suspension. Driving with a suspended license will cause additional charges under California Penal Code 14601. Vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence is a lesser charge as compared to DUI homicide. With the help of a competent DUI attorney, your Watson murder charges could be reduced to Vehicular manslaughter.

When an accident results from drunk driving, the police and other people can be quick to point you as the responsible party. However, facing these charges will not trigger an automatic conviction; you can present the defenses to fight the charge:

  • Claiming that you did not act with negligence. Sometimes when driving, situations arise and require you to act fast. If you are facing charges under Penal Code 191.5(), you can argue that your conduct resulted from the circumstances, and you were not negligent.
  • You were not intoxicated. You cannot be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if the prosecutor doesn’t prove the intoxication. You can argue that you were not drunk, and the results of the chemical tests are not credible. Also, having had a high blood alcohol content is not a guarantee that your conduct was impaired.
  • Your actions did not cause death. Your actions must be the direct cause of death in a vehicular manslaughter conviction.

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated 

Under California Penal Code 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter is death resulting from gross negligence. The element that needs to be proven before a conviction for this offense include:

  1. Proving that you were driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. This could be through the BAC results or actual intoxication
  2. While driving under the influence, you committed as a misdemeanor, which might cause death. The misdemeanor act does not have to be dangerous, and DUI does not count as the infraction.
  3. You committed the misdemeanor with gross negligence. Gross negligence occurs when you act recklessly in a way that creates a risk of severe bodily injury. Also, acting in a way that a reasonable person would not do under the given circumstances is considered gross negligence. Before you get convicted for this offense, the prosecutor must prove your negligence and disregard to dangers posed by your conduct. However, it is essential to understand that drinking and driving are not enough to constitute gross negligence.
  4. Your conduct caused the death of someone else. A vehicular manslaughter charge will stick if only death occurred. Although your grossly negligent act does it have to be the sole contributing factor, it should be the leading cause of death.

Gross vehicular manslaughter is a felony in California. A conviction for this offense will attract the following legal penalties:

  • Formal probation. You will be required to adhere to all requirements of probation which include regular check-in with the probation officer
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • Prison sentence not exceeding ten years
  • Driver’s license suspension. A conviction under California Penal Code 191.5(a) will trigger a three years driver’s license revocation. When your license is revoked, you are not allowed to obtain a restricted driver’s license.

If you have a prior conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or any other drunk driving offense, you will face harsher penalties. If you are facing DUI homicide charges, you can seek the reduction of your charges to gross vehicular manslaughter, which is a lesser offense.

When you are involved in a car accident while driving under the influence of drugs, you most likely be held liable for the accident. However, there are defenses you can present to your case to increase your chances of penalty reduction. If you are facing any of the three felony charges of drunk driving, it is crucial to have legal representation. 

Find a DUI Defense Attorney Near Me

With the increasing rate of wrongful arrests, you may find yourself facing charges for an offense you did not commit. When a death occurs in an accident involving many drivers, it is easy to be wrongly identified as the liable driver. However, it is crucial to understand that driving under the influence of alcohol does not mean you are responsible for the accident. With the help of a competent DUI attorney from San Jose DUI Attorney Law Firm, you can mount defenses, which could lessen your penalties. If you are San Jose, California, you will need us by your side. Call us today at 408-777-6630 to discuss the details of your case.