Last month 23-year-old Clovis, California resident, Candice Ooley, eight months pregnant and driving with a blood alcohol level four times the legal limit (0.32%), caused an accident that ended in the death of a passenger in the vehicle she hit and serious injuries to other occupants of the vehicle. Ms. Ooley, whose license to drive was already suspended due to her previous DUI arrest only six months before this fatal incident, was said to be driving at high speeds and possibly passed out while behind the wheel causing the wreck.

She has been charged with felony driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of over .15% and vehicular manslaughter with great bodily injury. The district attorney has announced that he intends to add second-degree murder charges but Ms. Ooley’s attorney plans to defend that potential charge on the basis that Ms. Ooley never received a “Watson warning” nor had she been convicted on the previous DUI charges at the time of this incident.

For the prosecutor to prove the murder charge, he would have to establish that Ms. Ooley was aware that if she drove while under the influence of alcohol, she could cause the death of another person, yet she intentionally chose to drive under the influence anyway; the legal term for this is “implied malice.” Now, that might seem like common knowledge but common knowledge is not enough to prove implied malice.

Most DUI caused deaths are charged as vehicular manslaughter but if a person has been convicted on a previous DUI in California, they have been read what is called the Watson warning by the judge. The Watson warning advises the defendant that driving under the influence can result in the death of another person and that in such an event, the defendant could be charged with second degree murder. When a person, who has been previously convicted of DUI and has therefore received a Watson warning, subsequently causes the death of another person due to driving under the influence, the previous Watson warning is considered prima facie evidence that the driver acted with implied malice because he or she chose to drive under the influence with the knowledge that such an act could cause the death of another.

In Ms. Ooley’s case, her first DUI was pending and she had not yet been convicted. Therefore, she had not received the Watson warning. Should the district attorney amend the complaint against her to allege second-degree murder as he has stated is his intention, Ms. Ooley can defend this charge by arguing that there is no evidence that she had the requisite knowledge that her act could cause the death of another. But the district attorney maintains that even though she has not received a Watson warning, she learned of the risks of driving under the influence in driver’s education, including the risk that driving under the influence can cause the death of another person. The district attorney also notes that Ms. Ooley used to work for a restaurant that served alcohol and that many restaurants train their staff to limit drinking by drunken customers and the reasons for those limits. The district attorney has stated his intention to review the driver’s education curriculum taken by Ms. Ooley and to determine whether she had relevant training when she worked at the restaurant; either one could establish evidence of implied malice.

Whether the district attorney adds the murder charge or not, if Ms. Ooley is convicted, she will likely spend many years in prison. Vehicular manslaughter with great bodily injury carries a sentence of 13 to 15 years imprisonment. The second degree murder charge can result in a sentence of 20 to 25 years in prison.

A DUI with injury or death is a very serious charge and you will need the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney. William Weinberg has extensive experience defending all types of DUI charges and is available to advise you on your particular circumstances. You can contact Mr. Weinberg at his Irvine California office at 949-474-8008.