Vista DUI attorney is a well-known law firm that specializes in DUI defense cases. The attorneys are reputable for developing defenses for clients that guarantee best outcomes in an affordable and efficient manner. They also offer clients the required legal representation when facing DUI homicide charges. The firm uses a comprehensive legal representation approach, which involves using exhaustively studying the evidence/facts and interviewing the witnesses.

What is DUI Homicide under California Law?

DUI homicide, also known as Watson murder, is a form of second-degree murder (that falls under California Penal Code 187). One can be charged with this offense when he/she was driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and kills someone in the process. The popular California Supreme Court case titled “People vs. Watson” inspired the name “Watson murder”. The case, which dates back to 1981, involved a driver charged for causing a fatal accident while driving under influence.

The California laws on DUI that results in death include Penal Codes 191.5(a) and 191.5(b). PC 191.5 (a) offers the guidelines for gross vehicular manslaughter while PC 191.5(b) offers the guidelines for vehicular manslaughter. They two penal codes fall under Title 8 of crimes against the person (187 – 248) that was enacted in 1872. Title 8, on the other hand, falls under Part 1 of crimes and punishments (25 – 680) California laws that were enacted in 1872.

PC 191.5(a)

Penal Code 191.5(a) states that gross vehicular manslaughter that occurred when one is intoxicated should be considered as a homicide without malice. The driver must have violated Section 23153, 23152 or 23140 of the Vehicle Code for this law to take effect. The law is applicable when the driver committed the offense with gross negligence of the Vehicle Codes.

PC 191.5(b)

Part B of Penal Code 191.5 points out that vehicular manslaughter caused by an intoxicated driver is homicide without malice. The accused must have been driving in violation of Section 23153, 23152 or 23140 of the Vehicle Code. PC 191.5(b) can only take effect when the driver committed the crime without gross negligence of the Vehicle Codes.

What are the Penalties for DUI Homicide?

Penal Code 191.5(d) highlights the penalties for a Watson murder crime. The law states that one may face 15 years or life imprisonment in state prison for violating Penal Codes 191.5(a) and 191.5(b). PC 191.5(d) also notes that the same sentence applies if the accused individual violated Sections 23153, 23552, 23550, 23548, 23546, 23542 or 23540 of the Vehicle Code.

The defendant may be asked to pay a fine not more than $10,000 or face a “strike”. A strike, in this context, implies that the individual will be served a double sentence if found guilty of other felony offenses. The defendant may also face a 25-year or life imprisonment in state prison for committing another strike felony or having two or more strikes.

People found guilty of DUI homicide may face additional imprisonment if the driving accident had injured survivors. For each person nursing less serious injuries, the defendant will face one-year imprisonment. If the survivors suffered great bodily injuries, the accused individual will serve 3 to 6 years imprisonment for each victim.

How Does the Prosecution Team Prove a DUI Homicide Case?

The role of the prosecutor in a DUI homicide case is to give facts or evidence proving that the defendant acted with implied malice. “Implied malice” refers to committing an act that resulted to injuring or killing someone. Watson murder charges differ from first-degree murder charges since the defendants are usually convicted for acting with no intention of killing someone.

The prosecution team should prove that the defendant acted willingly by disregarding the risk of driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol. They should also prove that the impacts of the act put human life in danger or the accused person’s acts resulted in someone’s death. One can only be found guilty if the evidence or facts provided to the jury supports these arguments.

Proving that the accused individual was aware of the dangers of DUI can make a prosecutor’s case strong. The prosecution team can do this by presenting evidence showing that the defendant was enrolled in a DUI school approved by the court before committing the crime. They can also argue that the accused person signed or was read a Watson admonition before being convicted of the offense.

A Watson admonition, also known as a Watson advisement, is usually given to people found guilty of committing DUI crimes in California. The defendant may sign a “Tahl warning” form or the judge may read the advisement as an act of a Watson admonition. When reading the advisement, the accused person usually agrees that operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs/alcohol can put human life in extreme danger.

What Do DUI Homicide Cases in California Have in Common?

Most DUI homicide cases in California share various facts, which give the prosecutor more leverage on the defendant. They include possession of special knowledge on DUI risks, driving extremely recklessly, having a BAC of over 0.08, drinking with an intention of driving and having a criminal record of DUI offenses. The prosecution team can focus on charging the defendant with committing manslaughter while being intoxicated if he/she can’t offer proof of these facts.

How Does Attending a DUI School or Having Specialized Knowledge Related to a DUI Homicide Case Affect Your Pending Case?

Attending a court-approved DUI school helps one learn the dangers and consequences of driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both. The court can mandate one to attend the school after being found guilty of a VC 23152(a) or VC 23152(b) DUI misdemeanor. A prosecutor can prove that a case meets the “implied malice” requirement for a PC 191.5 DUI homicide conviction by proving that the accused person attended this school. The evidence can include course records and course materials, which warn about the dangers of drugged or drunk driving.

Being a professional (such as a paramedic or ED doctor) with specialized knowledge in DUI can increase one’s likelihood of being charged with Watson murder. DUI attorneys believe that using one’s specialized knowledge to convict him/her for a DUI related crime is considered as “overcharging”. On the other hand, prosecutors use this approach to force the defendant to plead guilty. Most of them argue that the possession of certain knowledge makes one vigilant about committing a crime.

What Are the Roles of a Defendant in a DUI Homicide Case in California?

A defendant is a person who’s accused of a crime by a plaintiff. Also referred to as a respondent, a defendant is mandated by the jury to respond to the plaintiff’s claims. The respondent doesn’t need to prove his/her charges since it’s the role of the plaintiff to so. In a DUI homicide case, a motorist becomes a defendant if he/she is arrested for driving under drug/alcohol influence and killing someone in the process.

The plaintiff can be a close relative of the individual who succumbed in the Watson murder. Both the defendant and the plaintiff have the right to hiring an attorney. The hearing usually begins when both parties have been summoned to appear in court. At this time, only the judge decides whether the accused individual is guilty or not based on the evidence presented to the court by the attorneys. The defendant needs to stay calm and hopeful throughout the court process.

Does One Need an Attorney When Facing DUI Homicide Charges?

Watson murder cases are usually handled in a criminal court since they’re considered as crimes in California. The accused person can represent him/herself, choose to be represented by a court-appointed public defender or hire a private lawyer. The reason it’s difficult to represent oneself in court is that only lawyers have the legal training and experience needed to thoroughly assess a DUI homicide case.

Public defenders tend to have huge workloads, which make it extremely difficult for them to make time for defendants they’re representing. The defendant doesn’t have the freedom of choosing a public defender since this expert will be offering free services. The odds for getting a fair hearing are low when relying on a public defender’s help.

Both public defenders and private attorneys have the legal expertise to help one with a case. Since Watson murder cases have graver penalties than other DUI cases, one needs an attorney that can offer round-the-clock representation. Regardless of the lawyer fees, one can always find legal services that he/she can afford.

Hiring a private DUI attorney gives one a chance to get represented appropriately in the court proceedings. A good attorney can work analyze a case in a multi-dimensional approach and help his/her client get a fair sentence/ruling. Enlisting the help of the legal expert can also reduce the time one is expected to spend in and out of the court. Unlike a public defender, a private lawyer can dedicate more one-on-one time for answering questions and addressing concerns related to the case.

Which Legal Defenses are Suitable for DUI Homicide Charges?

The defendant’s lawyer must present actionable and reliable defense in front of a jury for the Watson murder charges to be withdrawn. The lawyer can argue that there was misconduct by the prosecutor or the police officer when the accident happened. Arguing that the accused individual didn’t intend to cause harm or the accident wasn’t his/her fault may also work. The jury can also grant a fair ruling if the attorney proves that his/her client wasn’t driving under influence. 

The main challenge in most DUI homicide cases doesn’t usually involve proving that the accused individual was sober at the time of the accident. The challenge lies on the prosecutor who’s trying to counter the defenses presented by the defendant’s attorney. The defenses every lawyer needs to adopt for such a case are discussed below.

  1. There was Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

The defendant is entitled to his/her constitutional rights regardless of the intensity of the charges. The defendant’s attorney can file a Pitchess motion stating that the police/prosecutor violated these constitutional rights. In most cases, the jury may grant the accused individual a lesser sentence for the crime when the motion is accepted. Consequently, the prosecutor’s case can also be weakened due to police/prosecutor misconduct since the jury will nullify the presented evidence.

  1. The Defendant’s Actions Weren’t Out of Implied Malice

For one to be found guilty of committing second-degree murder (PC 187), the prosecution team should prove that the act was out of implied malice. A DUI attorney may explain to the jury that his/her client didn’t disregard human life when the accident happened. The lawyer can also argue that the defendant was unaware of the DUI risks or the defendant didn’t complete a DUI school.

  1. The Accused Person Didn’t Cause the Accident

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol doesn’t always prove that one is responsible for a vehicular accident. The DUI lawyer can argue that the resulting death wasn’t the fault of the defendant. Working with an accident reconstruction expert to figure out what happened can also help prove that the accused person is innocent.

  1. The Accused Person Wasn’t Under the Influence of Drugs/Alcohol

The police department and lab need to adhere to Title 17 of the California laws on DUI blood testing. To prove that the defendant is innocent, a DUI attorney can argue that the police failed to comply with these regulations or that the breath test/blood test results were inaccurate. The lawyer can also argue that the accused person wasn’t driving the car at the time of the accident.

The DUI Homicide Conviction Process in California

The new California laws on DUI offer stricter penalties to those found guilty of committing DUI crimes such as DUI homicide. The current DUI conviction process is more focused on charging the accused individuals gathering sufficient evidence/facts for a case. In most cases, the process usually begins with a police officer pulling over a motorist for driving recklessly or routine traffic checks. The police officer then proceeds to interrogate the individual to gauge whether he/she is sober.

To verify that one was drunk or drugged while driving, the police officer will request for a breath test. The officer can also escort the motorist to the police station and ask for a blood/breath test to determine why the motorist was driving recklessly. A breath test of over 0.08 percent proves that the driver was intoxicated. The test can also allow the police officer to issue the driver a notice of suspension after taking away his/her driving license.

The accused person should enlist the help of a DUI lawyer to schedule an administrative hearing within 10 days of being arrested. Before the hearing, the defendant needs to share his/her side of the accident with the DUI attorney. The trials usually begin once the prosecutor has enough evidence against the defendant.

Charges Related to a DUI Homicide Case

One can be charged for Vehicle Code 23152(a) or Vehicle Code 23152(b) offense for driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol in California. These two vehicle codes differ in terms of the intensity of charges. They are as follows:

  1. VC 23152(a) – Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol

Vehicle Code 23152(a) states that it is a crime to drive/operate a motor vehicle while being under the influence of an alcoholic beverage. The law also highlights that alcohol impairs one’s mental or physical abilities that needed to operate a motor vehicle. Such an offense is considered as a misdemeanor in California when committed for the first, second or third time. The penalties for this crime include a 6-month driver’s license suspension, travel restrictions, one-year imprisonment in county jail and a fine of $390.

  1. VC 23152(b) – Driving with a Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.08 or Higher

Also known as the “per se” DUI law, VC 23152(b) considers driving with a BAC of 0.08 or greater a crime. The offense is categorized as a misdemeanor when the person commits it for the first, second or third time. Penalties include having the driver’s license suspended, attending a DUI school, having an ignition interlock device installed in a car and misdemeanor probation.

  1. VC 23152(c) – A Drug Addict Driving a Vehicle

Vehicle Code 23152(c) states that it’s unlawful for any drug addict to drive a vehicle. The law only excludes participants of a narcotic treatment program from getting convicted for driving a motor vehicle. Committing a VC 23152(c) falls under misdemeanors and is punishable like the crimes related to Vehicle Codes 23152(a) and 23152(b).

Get Legal Help on a DUI Homicide Case from a DUI Attorney Near Me

If you or someone close to you is facing Watson murder charges, we invite you to seek our legal services. We are willing to offer you a free consultation by phone 760-691-1540 or in person. Vista DUI Attorney operates across Vista and San Diego North County. The firm comprises of highly-skilled and experienced attorneys.

We look forward to helping you plan ways of strengthening your defense. Our attorneys use the appropriate tools and resources to help your individual case.