A Foothill Ranch woman faces a murder charge under Penal Code section 187(a). It is alleged that on October 1, 2016, this woman, only 24 years old at the time, “with malice aforethought” killed another human being. Why am I writing about this on a DUI blog? Well, this young woman faces murder charges because she caused the death of another after her vehicle crashed into the truck of the deceased. It is alleged that she was intoxicated when the collision occurred.

When a person causes the death of another in an accident, it is usually charged as manslaughter if the fault of the accident was due to the driver’s negligence or if the driver was violating the law. When a driver is DUI and causes a fatal injury to another, the driver may be charged under Penal Code section 191.5 for vehicular manslaughter. This is a separate offense and by definition includes gross negligence.

But when a driver causes the death of another while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and has been previously convicted of a DUI, the driver may, and probably will, be charged with second-degree murder. A DUI murder charge is no different than any other second-degree murder charge and carries of punishment of 15 years to life imprisonment in state prison. The murder charge this woman faces is called a “Watson murder,” so named following a California Supreme Court decision in 1981 (People v. Watson). The Watson court held that when a person drives under the influence, the driver acts wantonly and in disregard for human life. This rises to the level of implied malice. Without getting too technical, California law provides that anyone convicted of a DUI be advised that driving under the influence is dangerous to human life and that if the driver kills someone while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he or she can be charged with murder. This is called a “Watson Admonishment” and provides a basis for the prosecution to allege that the driver had the requisite mental state of implied malice.

The young Foothill Ranch driver was convicted of DUI only a year before the fatal collision. Although the fatal collision occurred in 2016, it was not until January of this year that the Orange County District Attorney filed a murder charge against her after the Orange County Sheriff’s Department completed their investigation. The evidence shows that this young woman was not only under the influence but she was speeding at over 100 mph in a 40 mph zone at the time the collision occurred. Following the filing of the complaint by the district attorney, a one million dollar warrant was issued for her arrest on January 15, 2018. She was arrested the next day and has since appeared before the judge where she entered a plea of not guilty. She remains in Orange County jail.

Often young people, or even not-so-young people, fail to understand the potential consequences of getting behind the wheel after drinking or taking drugs. The Watson admonishment reminds those who are convicted of driving under the influence that they can kill someone by that act and if the defendant kills someone in the future while driving under the influence, he or she may be charged with murder.

A Watson Murder charge is serious business, but there may be defenses to the charge. Anyone charged with this crime is best represented an attorney whose practice is primarily confined to criminal defense. Orange County attorney William Weinberg has represented hundreds of defendants— including defendants charged with murder— in his 25 years of practice. He offers a complimentary consultation regarding your DUI or criminal matter. You can contact him at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at