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Why DUI Suspects Can Be Charged with Murder

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Why DUI Suspects Can Be Charged with MurderSecond-degree murder is the most serious charge you can face after an alleged driving under the influence incident. DUI murder charges in California are commonly called Watson murders because the policy stems from the 1980s case of People v. Watson, in which the California Supreme Court ruled that a DUI offender can be charged with murder. A DUI murder conviction can result in a prison sentence of 15 years to life and a fine of as much as $10,000.

Murder vs. Manslaughter

When someone dies as a result of an alleged DUI incident, prosecutors can charge the defendant with negligent vehicular manslaughter, gross vehicular manslaughter, or second-degree murder. Manslaughter is a serious charge but does not have as severe of penalties as murder. Manslaughter is a more common charge than second-degree murder because prosecutors need to prove the intent behind the incident:

  • DUI manslaughter occurs when the driver’s negligence results in the death of someone else; and
  • DUI murder occurs when the driver’s actions were malicious in leading up to the fatal DUI incident.

Implied Malice

You may wonder how anyone is charged with second-degree murder from a DUI incident if the defendant needed to have acted maliciously. An intoxicated driver does not get behind the wheel with the intent to kill someone. Prosecutors often file DUI murder charges against someone who has previously been convicted of DUI. As part of the previous conviction, the offender may have needed to:

  • Sign a Watson advisement, stating that he or she understands that drunk driving can cause injury or death; or
  • Attend a DUI school to learn about the dangers of drunk driving.

Prosecutors charge repeat offenders with second-degree murder because the offender is on record as being aware of the dangers of drunk driving. Driving while intoxicated despite this knowledge is considered implied malice.

Contesting the Charge

The urgency of contesting DUI charges is at its highest when facing a second-degree murder charge. Most DUI defenses are based upon whether police had probable cause to make the arrest and whether there is evidence that the defendant was intoxicated. With a murder charge, the defense can also argue that:

  • The defendant’s actions did not cause the death because of the victim’s own negligence or outside factors; and
  • The defendant did not sign a Watson advisement or attend DUI school after his or her previous conviction.

Being charged with murder after your alleged DUI incident is a frightening prospect. A San Francisco DUI defense attorney at Burglin Law Offices, P.C., can contest the charges brought against you. Schedule a free consultation by calling 415-729-7300.



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