Arrested after car crashWhen does a DUI become manslaughter or murder in CA ?  Perhaps many law-abiding would never dream of having to face criminal charges of murder or manslaughter but it happen it can happen to anyone including successful billionaires as in the case of John Goodman.    When convicted of a first time DUI in California you will most always get a “Watson” admonition from a judge during sentencing that states:

“You understand that being under the influence, of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and as a result of your driving, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder.”  Such admonition not only applies to persons who have been previously convicted of a DUI but all persons who drink and drive.  However, if you are in the unfortunate situation where you are involved in an accideLos nt while drinking and driving and someone is killed, you first must consult with an experienced DUI attorney who can assess all possible defenses which could leave to a reduction in charges, reduction in sentence or possibly a dismissal of charges.

 DUI – Second Degree Murder

If  a person kills another while driving under the influence of alcohol in California, that person may be charged with Second Degree Murder or what is known as a “Watson Murder.”  If a prosecutor files charges for second degree murder, the assert facts that they claim proves that defendant  intentionally committed a dangerous act with knowledge of the danger to, and with conscious disregard for, human life.  California Penal Code section 187 includes “implied malice” as an alternative means of finding intent for murder.  A sentence for second degree murder in California whether your are convicted in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside or Ventura County  will be 15 years to life in prison pursuant to Penal Code section 190(a).

In most cases involving vehicular manslaughter and related second degree murder charges, there will be no evidence of any direct intent to cause the death of another but the State of California can prove implied malice by showing the following:

  1. The Defendant committed an intentional act
  2. At the time the Defendant committed the acted, they knew this act was dangerous to human life;
  3. The Defendant acted deliberately with a conscious disregard for human life; and
  4. The natural and probable consequences of the deliberate act were dangerous to human life

In many criminal defense cases involving DUI murder charges, a good criminal defense attorney can obtain a reduction in charges or even a dismissal by challenging different elements of the crime including the fact that a Defendant knew the act was dangerous to human life.  If a person had a prior DUI conviction in California or states with similar laws and received a “Watson” admonition then a subsequent DUI which causes a loss of life may be proven by showing knowledge from the “Watson” admonition.  In addition, prosecutor may attempt to prove knowledge by arguing that the person knew they should not have been driving based on the amount of alcohol ingested which would be harder to prove.

DUI – Vehicular Manslaughter

As opposed to being charged with murder in California for killing someone while driving under the influence, a California prosecutor does have the option of charging a defendant with Vehicular Manslaughter.  Although serious, a charge of Vehicular Manslaughter can carry a punishment as low as one year in California county jail or up to six years in a California state prison for convictions of vehicular manslaughter involving gross negligence as set forth in  California Penal Code section 191.5.  There are many defenses and facts which can be used to defend such charges the most obvious of which may be that the person was not driving under the influence at the time of the collision or that they person accused of vehicular manslaughter did not cause the collision.   If an experienced California criminal defense lawyer can show that there client was not driving under the influence of alcohol than such death related charges may be reduced to a negligent homicide if there is gross negligence involved or in many cases a good defense lawyer may be able to get the charges dismissed through negotiation or at trial.

The importance of retaining a quality Los Angeles criminal defense attorney when facing DUI Murder or Manslaughter Charges in CA:

Most individuals do not think they are the type of “hardened criminal” that could commit a murder or manslaughter but, as pointed out above, it only takes a lapse in judgement, a few too many drinks and getting behind the wheel and you could very well be facing serious felony accusations that could mean spending a significant portion of your life behind bars.  No matter where you reside in California (L.A., Orange County, the Inland Empire or Oxnard Ventura), it is important to immediately consult a qualified legal professional familiar with defense of these types of criminal charges.  GlotzerLaw, PC has extensive experience representing persons accused of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs where either personal injury  or death has occurred.  Call for a free consultation.


Additional Resources:

Defense of Criminal Charges of Driving Under the Influence in CA (Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers)