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.