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Can a DUI Lead to Murder Charges?

Drunk driving carries serious penalties, especially if the crime leads to a collision, injury, or death. If the accident causes a fatality, a simple drunk driving charge could lead to allegations of murder, even though the impaired driver had no intention of hurting anybody.

When can prosecutors pursue a murder charge? It’s simple – a DUI arrest that involves extreme circumstances and at least one fatality can lead to allegations of murder.

For instance, a drunk driver strikes and kills a bicyclist or pedestrian, or the drunk driver causes a head-on collision, killing the occupants in the other vehicle. These fatal events can lead to murder charges under California law.

California's ‘Watson Murder’ & DUI Law

The term "Watson murder" refers to a 1981 Supreme Court case, People v. Watson, which established a connection between DUI and second-degree murder. Since this landmark case, individuals convicted of DUI must acknowledge the Watson advisement, which recognizes that drunk driving is dangerous and it can lead to murder charges.

For prosecutors to establish DUI murder under the Watson advisement: 1) prosecutors must show that an intentional act caused the victim's death, 2) prosecutors must demonstrate that the "act" was innately hazardous to human life, and 3) they must show that the defendant knowingly chose to commit the act and disregard the risks associated with it.

In the case of a DUI murder, the prosecution could attempt to show that you chose to drink and drive, knowing that it could lead to the death of another person.

A DUI murder case can lead to life changing penalties. To obtain a conviction, the prosecution might attempt to prove "implied malice," which would suggest that the defendant committed DUI with full knowledge of its innate risk. Implied malice can include:

  • The driver acknowledged the Watson advisement
  • The driver attended a court-approved DUI school

If the defendant attended a DUI school, the court will assume that he or she understood the danger of driving under the influence and willfully chose to ignore this fact.

Involved in a fatal DUI crash? Seek advice now!

If you were involved in a fatal DUI crash, you should seek the advice of an experienced DUI attorney. At the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc., we are dedicated to helping DUI defendants in Orange County and the surrounding region. Contact our office today to speak to the DUI Queen!