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California's 'Watson Advisement'

In Orange County and throughout California, people can be prosecuted for murder if while driving under the influence, they kill another person. Such a person can be the driver’s own passenger, the driver or passengers in another vehicle, or it can even be a bicyclist or a pedestrian.

In California, DUI second-degree murder is known as a “Watson murder,” and it’s the most serious of all of the state’s felony DUI charges. If you’ve heard of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under Penal Code 191.5 PC, this crime involves ordinary gross negligence; it’s different from a Watson murder.

How are the crimes different? A Watson murder is considered worse because it implies malice or malice aforethought, which means a conscious disregard for human life. You may be wondering why this is, especially if a drunk driver had no “intention” of hurting or injuring another person.

The answer can be traced back to the “Watson advisement.”

What is the Watson advisement?

The term “Watson murder” came from the landmark 1981 California Supreme Court case, People v. Watson. That case ultimately set the stage so drunk drivers who kill another person in an accident can be charged with second-degree murder under Penal Code 187 murder.

Since the People v. Watson, DUI defendants who are found guilty of DUI must sign or verbally acknowledge the “Watson advisement” when they are sentenced for drunk driving, acknowledging that:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is extremely dangerous to human life, and
  • If they kill someone while driving under the influence, the prosecutor my charge them with murder.

In other words, if you have been convicted of DUI before, and you subsequently kill someone in another DUI case, then you can be charged with a Watson murder.

In order for a DUI defendant to be convicted of murder in California, the prosecutor must be able to prove that: 1) the death resulted from the DUI, 2) the consequences of DUI endanger human life, and 3) the defendant knowingly acted with a conscious disregard for this fact.

If you are being accused of a Watson murder, you face 15 years to life in prison, a fine up to $10,000, and a strike under California’s three strikes law. So, if you are in this situation, you need help now.

Contact an Orange County DUI attorney from the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc. Our lead attorney is a member of the National College for DUI Defense and she is Board Certified in DUI Defense!