Watson Murder Charges in San Diego
San Diego DUI Attorney Explains Watson Murder
Imagine going out with friends to a bar after working, drinking and enjoying
life, and waking up in the hospital and finding out you are being charged
with Murder! You were involved in an accident driving 80 miles an hour
on the wrong way on the freeway and you hit a vehicle killing two people
and seriously injuring two more. You had no intent to hurt anyone. You
don’t even remember the night after a few hours into the evening.
You have couple of prior
DUIs, but you thought they were just bad luck.
Alcohol and drugs are powerful intoxicants that can cause regular folks
to engage in dangerous and deadly behavior. You don’t have to be
a bad person to be charged with a DUI murder, you just have to have engaged
in deadly driving conduct, under the influence, and have prior knowledge
of the deadliness of driving while intoxicated.
Becoming more popular prosecutions, are what is know in the law as, “Watson
Murders.” These cases involve drug or alcohol related vehicular
accidents that are charged as 2nd-degree murder rather than
gross vehicular manslaughter. The critical element that distinguishes the Watson brand of second degree
murder from gross vehicular manslaughter is implied malice. The malice,
found in murder is implied from the circumstances of the driving and the
mental state of the driver as opposed to gross negligence which is found
in gross vehicular manslaughter.
"Gross Negligence" in Watson Murder Cases
Gross negligence is defined in the law as “so slight a degree of
care as to raise a presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences.”
The “implied malice” element of second degree murder is when
a person, “knowing that his conduct endangers the life of another,
nonetheless acts deliberately with conscious disregard for life.”
What are the penalties for Watson Murder?
This means that if you drink and drive and get into a vehicular accident
you could be charged with murder if the circumstances are such that a
prosecutor thinks that implied malice may be involved. The maximum for
one count of gross vehicular manslaughter with alcohol is 10 years, the
sentence for 2nd degree implied malice murder is 15 to life.
The mental state of the defendant is usually the most important issue in
a vehicular accident prosecution for murder. The prosecution must show
that the accused acted deliberately with a conscious disregard to human life,
knowing that those acts were dangerous to human life.
Prior DUI Convictions Are a Factor in a Watson Murder
Many times this involves drivers with previous convictions for driving
under the influence. Knowledge of the danger doesn’t have to be
from prior convictions but prior convictions provide documented knowledge
that the driver understood the consequences of driving while intoxicated.
In fact, courts routinely admonish someone pleading to DUI that they acknowledge
the danger. Part of the admonition is the statement that you know if you
drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and someone is killed
that you can be charged with murder. These are called Watson acknowledgments.
The programs that a convicted DUI offender goes through can also provide
the knowledge. People convicted of DUI attend programs that specifically
instruct in detail repeatedly of the possibilities of death and destruction
that comes from driving under the influence of intoxicants.
Evidence of Implied Malice
The actual factors that will provide sufficient evidence for implied malice
in vehicular cases are:
- Blood alcohol level above the .08 legal limit;
- A pre-drinking intent to drive;
- Knowledge of the hazard of driving while intoxicated
- Highly dangerous driving.
- Whenever you have a vehicular death charge and intoxication is involved
you have a much harder time proving that the accident wasn’t your
fault. Accident reconstruction experts, who normally help tremendously,
may not be much assistance with a high blood alcohol. That doesn’t
mean it shouldn’t be analyzed, or you shouldn’t try, it just
means practically that a high blood alcohol is a tough fact to get around
if you want to debate causation.
If you are charged with a Watson Murder you must refrain from denial and
help your counsel defend
you properly. If the evidence is strong enough, you should consider attempting
to plea bargain. You do not want to be convicted of something involving
a “life tail” in this state and political climate. You may
have a better chance of parole having been convicted of a driving incident,
rather than an intentional killing, but don’t count on it. Prison
is a tough place and you can’t guarantee that you will not have
incidents that cause problems with your good time credits.