Watson Murder (DUI Murder Charges)

At Gressley & Donaldson, we believe that every client deserves a robust defense, regardless of the charges they’re facing. If you’ve been charged with a Watson murder, your future is on the line. Contact our law office for top-tier legal guidance.

When an incident of drinking and driving results in the death of another person, the individual responsible is typically charged with vehicular manslaughter (or gross vehicular manslaughter).

When an individual shows blatant disregard for human life when committing this act or even has a history of driving under the influence, the prosecution may choose to charge the individual with what’s known as a Watson murder. Also called DUI murder, a Watson murder carries much harsher penalties than vehicular manslaughter.

However, a lot of work must be done on behalf of the prosecution to make a Watson murder charge stick. They not only need to prove that the individual was responsible for the crime but also that the individual was aware of the potential consequences of drinking and driving but chose to drive under the influence regardless of that knowledge.

If you’ve been charged with a Watson murder, your future is in jeopardy. This article will explain everything you need to know about Watson murder charges in California, including potential penalties, common legal defense, and more.

Understanding Watson Murder PC 187 Charges

A Watson murder is a name given to the charge of second-degree murder when the murder is committed as a result of a DUI. The name originates from the case of People v. Watson in which the court proved that Watson’s disregard for human life was the key difference between a typical drunk driving accident and murder.

For the purpose of understanding the rule itself, it’s important to understand the differences between second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter.

Gross vehicular manslaughter is a criminal offense that involves causing the death of another person while operating a vehicle with gross negligence. Gross negligence, in this context, refers to a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Unlike regular vehicular manslaughter, which involves ordinary negligence, gross vehicular manslaughter requires a higher degree of negligence that goes beyond mere carelessness.

To be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant acted with a conscious and extreme disregard for the safety of others, resulting in a fatal accident. This could include behaviors such as excessive speeding, reckless driving, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Second-degree murder, on the other hand, describes an act of unplanned murder that typically takes place in a “heat of passion” – not negligence. Like all types of murder charges, second-degree murder in California is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.

When someone is charged with a Watson murder, the same rules apply to the incident as in second-degree murder. If someone intentionally drinks and drives and kills another person as a result of their decision, the prosecution can charge them with second-degree murder instead of manslaughter if implied malice is present in the incident that took place.

What Is Implied Malice in DUI Murder?

Implied malice refers to a legal concept that may be applied in cases where a person causes a fatal accident while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. California law refers to malice in Watson Murder PC 187 as:

“(1) Malice is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention to unlawfully take away the life of a fellow creature.

(2) Malice is implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

If an individual in California exhibits a conscious disregard for human life while driving under the influence and that conduct leads to someone’s death, they may be charged with second-degree murder, commonly known as DUI murder or Watson murder.

The term “implied malice” here means that, although the defendant may not have specifically intended to kill someone, their actions demonstrated such a high level of recklessness and indifference to human life that the law implies malicious intent.

Proving a Watson DUI Murder

Being able to prove that a person committed a Watson murder instead of gross vehicular manslaughter isn’t an easy thing for the prosecution to accomplish. In order to successfully convict someone of Watson Murder PC 187, the prosecution must prove 3 essential elements to a judge:

  • Prior knowledge. While most people will assume that everyone understands driving under the influence comes with the risk of hurting or killing another person, the law can’t make those assumptions. The prosecution will have to demonstrate that the person charged with the DUI causing death understood the risks and decided to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol anyway.
  • Implied malice. Prosecutors must show that the defendant acted with implied malice, indicating a conscious disregard for human life. This involves presenting evidence of reckless behavior or extreme negligence while driving under the influence that led to the fatal accident.
  • Causation. Establishing a direct link between the defendant’s intoxicated driving and the death is crucial. This involves presenting evidence that the defendant’s actions directly caused the fatal accident.

In addition to these important elements, the prosecution must prove that the individual was intoxicated when the incident took place through documents such as police reports and blood alcohol concentration (BAC) readings. If evidence of the person’s intoxication doesn’t exist, the charges can be diminished substantially or removed completely.

Proving Implied Malice

Out of all three elements that the prosecution must show, the one that may be the hardest to prove is implied malice. In nearly all cases of Watson Murder PC 187, a prosecutor will attempt to show a prior DUI conviction in the defendant’s record. This may help establish implied malice because the defendant would have likely undergone mandatory education classes as a result of their sentencing.

These classes not only provide an individual with knowledge of the dangers of driving under the influence, but they also require that the individual sign a document known as a Watson Agreement or a Watson Admonition, in which you attest that you understand that driving under the influence may result in the injury or death of another person. If a person understands the risks involved with driving under the influence, the prosecution may try to argue that implied malice was involved with the crime because the person knew the risk and chose to drive while intoxicated anyway.

Another way that California has attempted (and succeeded in) to convict someone of a Watson murder is by showing that a person’s career relies on them knowing that drinking and driving has the potential to kill another person. This could potentially be a:

  • Drug and alcohol counselor
  • EMT
  • Police officer
  • Bartender
  • Funeral home director

The presence of implied malice may also be argued in situations where the defendant had a personal connection to the DUI deaths. Maybe the person had a close family member who died as a result of a drunk driver hitting them. Maybe the defendant themself was a victim of a near-death accident where a driver under the influence of drugs almost killed them.

Regardless of the example, the person must have demonstrated knowledge of the risk and chose to take the risk knowing that their actions may result in the death of another person. The act itself does not qualify as an example of implied malice.

Legal Defenses to a Watson DUI Murder Charge

A charge of murder is a big step up from a manslaughter charge. While it’s harder to prove in court that you acted maliciously versus negligently, if the prosecution is successful, you will be facing much more serious consequences.

Our legal team can employ various strategies in an attempt to get your Watson murder charge dropped or reduced to vehicular manslaughter. We discuss some of these legal arguments below.

You Did Not Driver Under the Influence

If someone is charged with California Penal Code 187 through the Watson murder rule, the incident must involve the act of someone driving under the influence. If not, the prosecution risks not only losing the ability to charge the defendant with a Watson murder, but they may also lose the ability to charge them with gross vehicular manslaughter, or even vehicular manslaughter.

To prove you were sober when the incident took place, our firm may point to evidence such as:

  • A low BAC
  • Witness testimony that attests to your sobriety at the time of the incident
  • Poorly maintained testing equipment
  • Law enforcement’s use of intimidation tactics to garner an admission
  • Lack of drug or alcohol use in your criminal history

It’s important to note that some tests, such as field sobriety tests, are controversial among medical professionals many of whom claim the tests aren’t sufficient enough to prove an individual’s sobriety. Additionally, if a field sobriety test is the only test that the arresting officer performed, a medical professional may be used for expert testimony to explain the unreliability of the test.

Individuals are also legally permitted to refuse a field sobriety test if they feel that the test may not be representative of their sobriety, or if they are unable to perform the commands associated with the test due to a disability.

The Accident Was Not Your Fault

While the risk of being charged with a Watson murder goes up exponentially when you drive under the influence, in some situations, drivers may be wrongly accused of committing murder when the fatality was a result of reckless driving performed by the victim or another driver.

For example, let’s say that Michelle is drunk and starts driving down the 101. In front of her, a truck hits a pedestrian crossing the street and speeds off. The pedestrian is killed instantly. Even though she knows that she will be reprimanded for driving under the influence, Michelle decides to call 9-1-1 and stay with the victim until an EMT arrives.

When law enforcement asks for her statement, the officer notices that Michelle is slurring her words, sees that she has a prior DUI in her criminal record, and suspects that she is responsible for the incident, even though she was the one who reported it. If charged with a Watson murder, Michelle’s criminal defense attorney will likely prove through the use of cameras in the vicinity and eye-witness accounts that Michelle was not responsible for the accident, it’s likely that because she was responsible for alerting the authorities, no further charges will be pursued.

You Did Not Act with Implied Malice

In a DUI murder case, a crucial defense strategy may involve challenging the prosecution’s claim that the defendant acted with implied malice. Our firm may argue that the defendant’s actions, while regrettable and resulting in a tragic outcome, did not rise to the level of conscious disregard for human life required for a charge of second-degree murder.

This defense might involve presenting evidence to counter the prosecution’s assertions of reckless driving, such as questioning the accuracy of eyewitness accounts, disputing expert testimony, or highlighting factors that indicate the defendant’s impairment was not as severe as claimed. Establishing that the defendant did not act with implied malice can significantly impact the outcome of the case and may lead to reduced charges or penalties.

There Was Police Misconduct

Another potential defense in a DUI murder case that our firm may decide to use relies on exposing alleged misconduct by law enforcement or the prosecution. Our defense attorneys may scrutinize the conduct of the police during the investigation, challenging the legality of the traffic stop, arrest procedures, or the admissibility of evidence obtained.

Additionally, we may scrutinize the actions of the prosecutor, looking for instances of misconduct that could compromise the fairness of the trial. Examples of prosecutor misconduct could include withholding exculpatory evidence, making improper statements during trial, or engaging in prejudicial behavior. If successful, a defense based on misconduct may result in the exclusion of evidence or, in extreme cases, dismissal of charges.

Penalties For DUI Murder In California

Like all murder charges, DUI murder is a felony. If convicted of DUI murder, the penalties can be severe. The specific consequences may vary based on the circumstances of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, and other factors, but here are some general penalties associated with DUI murder in California:

  • Imprisonment. A conviction for DUI murder can result in a lengthy prison sentence. The term of imprisonment may range from 15 years to life in state prison.
  • Fine. In addition to imprisonment, the court may impose fines as part of the sentence. The amount of the fine can vary but may be substantial.
  • Probation. While probation is less likely in DUI murder cases, the court may impose probationary terms, including mandatory alcohol education programs, counseling, and other conditions.
  • Restitution. The court may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim’s family to cover funeral expenses and other costs related to the fatal accident.
  • Revocation of driver’s license. A DUI murder conviction usually leads to the revocation of the defendant’s driver’s license. The revocation is likely to be for an extended period, if not permanently.

A DUI murder conviction is considered a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law. This means that if the defendant is later convicted of another serious felony, they may face enhanced penalties. If you already have a strike or multiple strikes, your penalties will be significantly higher if convicted of a Watson murder.

Watson Admonition in DUI Murder Cases

In California, the Watson Advisement (also known as a Watson Admonition) is a warning given to individuals convicted of DUI offenses. It informs them of the dangers of driving under the influence and the potential consequences, including the possibility of being charged with murder if they cause a fatal accident while intoxicated.

The prosecution may present evidence that the defendant received this advisement in a previous DUI case, establishing their knowledge of the risks. If a person signs a Watson Admonition before being charged with Watson Murder PC 187, the prosecution may have an easier time giving the defendant the maximum possible sentence.

Gressley & Donaldson: Leading Criminal Defense Lawyers in California

title decoration line

Whether you have questions about Watson murder PC 187, or you need someone to look over your case, our experienced DUI attorneys can provide the legal expertise you need and deserve.

After investigating the incident and collecting the necessary evidence, we’ll start building an airtight defense to secure the most favorable outcome possible. Ready to defend your future? Get started by contacting Gressley & Donaldson today.

contact us to start building your defense

We understand that being accused of a crime is one of the most challenging times of your life. Rely on us to advocate for your rights and to give you the defense you deserve.