Articles Posted in DUI Manslaughter

When a drunk driver kills someone, he or she is usually charged under the vehicular manslaughter laws. But under certain circumstances, the driver can be charged with 2nd degree murder. Known as a “Watson Murder” charge, this crime gets its name from a California Supreme Court case, People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal. 3d 290. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a driver who causes the death of another while driving under the influence, knowingly and intentionally doing so with conscious disregard for the natural consequence that the conduct could cause the death of another person, acted with implied malice. Without getting too technical here, that means the driver knew that his or her conduct risked the possibility of causing the death of another person. The element of implied malice distinguishes the criminal act from vehicular manslaughter. A Watson second-degree murder charge does not require the actual intent to kill someone.

Historically, California prosecutors only charged a Watson murder if the driver already had at least one DUI. That is because when a person is convicted of a DUI, they are required to acknowledge a “Watson” admonishment. This admonishment advises the defendant of the potential fatal consequences of driving under the influence and warns the defendant if he or she kills a person while driving under the influence, the prosecutor may charge the driver with 2nd degree murder. Furthermore, when a person is convicted of DUI, they must attend DUI classes, which also warn of these dangers. The Watson admonishment and the DUI education provides the prosecutor with evidence that the driver charged with a Watson murder acted with implied malice as the driver knew his or her act could result in the death of another but chose to drive under the influence anyway, i.e., the driver acted with implied malice.

While it is still more common to see a Watson murder charge filed against a driver who has at least one prior DUI, the past few years have seen more California prosecutors willing to charge a Watson murder even though the driver had no prior DUI. A Watson murder charge does not require a prior DUI, it only requires that the prosecution prove you had the necessary mental state. This is easier for the prosecution to prove when you have already received a Watson admonishment but in particularly egregious cases, the prosecution will argue that the facts are enough to establish implied malice.

I recently wrote about individuals who work in criminal justice—and who should know better—getting DUIs. Today I read a tragic news story today about an off-duty Los Angeles police officer causing a crash that killed three people; the officer is suspected of driving drunk.

The crash happened in Riverside around 10 p.m. this past Tuesday, September 27. The off-duty officer, Edgar Verduzco, a Santa Ana resident, was speeding down the carpool lane when he rear-ended the victim’s Nissan. The Nissan burst into flames causing the death of a couple and their teen-aged son, who were trapped in their car.

The officer was booked on suspicion of felony DUI and vehicular manslaughter. LAPD is investigating, while Officer Verduzco is being held in the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail on $100,000 bail. His only injury is a broken nose.


Here’s an unfortunate statistic you don’t want to brag about: California has the top four of the top ten U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest DUI fatality rate per capita. Those areas: #1 San Bernardino, #2 Riverside, #3 Fresno, and #4 Sacramento have the highest rate of DUI fatalities in the entire country. San Bernardino’s rate is six times higher than the national rate! It’s neighbor, Riverside, has a rate that is three times higher.

The Department of Transportation estimates that approximately one-third of all traffic fatalities involve a drunk driver and that approximately 30% of all drivers in California who died in a car crash were over the legal limit of .08%. The overwhelming number of these fatalities were individuals between the ages of 21 to 34.


A recent and particularly gruesome DUI incident in Oceanside made news around the world. In the early morning of June 27, a 29-year-old woman who was driving under the influence veered onto the sidewalk and hit a homeless man near her home in Oceanside. She was driving so fast that the impact forced the man through the woman’s windshield, tearing off his clothes as he flew through the windshield, falling crumpled up in the passenger seat. But it gets worse than that. The woman continued driving for about one-half to one mile with the dead man in her front seat. The man’s leg had been severed from his body and went flying through the rear windshield landing on the trunk of the car. After she stopped her car, she got out and walked away. She walked home but she didn’t get away for long; her husband called the cops.

The driver’s blood alcohol level was tested two hours after the crash and registered twice the legal limit. She is facing four felony charges: Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated (Penal Code §191.5(a); Hit and Run (Vehicle Code §20002); Driving with Measurable Blood Alcohol Causing Injury and DUI with Injury (Vehicle Code §§25153(a) & (b)). The judge set her bail at $1.5 million.

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.

Every day, approximately 30 people are killed by a drunk driver in this country. That translates into somewhere around 11,000 people killed every year by a drunk driver. That’s almost one-third of all traffic-related deaths in this country. If you drink and drive, you could be this country’s next murderer. Let that sink in before you get behind the wheel after one too many.

Sadder still, of over 1,000 children under the age of 14 who are killed in a traffic accident each year, approximately 20% involve a drunk driver and over half of those children were riding in the car with the drunk driver. That’s over 500 children each year who are killed when an irresponsible adult decides it’s okay drive impaired with a child in the car.

According to the CDC, there are hundreds of millions of driving under the influence episodes. When that is considered, only a very tiny percentage of drunk drivers ever cause a traffic-related death. And that is the kind of thinking that convinces someone who shouldn’t be driving to do so anyway: “I’m okay to drive; I only had three glasses of wine.” “I’ve left this bar many times and I can drive home just fine.” “What’s the chance I’ll get caught; I can drive without weaving.” Think about the 11,000 mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, and sisters who leave behind a grieving family every year; are they just a very small statistic?

Penal Code Section 191.5 defines Gross Vehicular Manslaughter as:

(a) The unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence. A conviction of 191.5(a) is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 4, 6, or 10 years.

(b)  The unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.  A conviction of 191.5(b) is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for 16 months or two or four years.

You may be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if you: (1) Are driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol; (2) Your actions could result in the death of another; and (3) Someone is killed as a result of your negligence.

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Driving Under The Influence And Hit & Run In Orange County

Under California law, anyone who is involved in an accident is required to immediately stop at the scene, provide the other party involved with contact and insurance information, and to assist anyone who may have suffered injures. Failure to do any of these requirements can result in being charged with hit and run. More seriously, being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the hit and run, will result in multiple charges and potentially serious consequences.

DUI at the time of a hit and run usually involves several offenses and may result in one or more of the following charges:

Typically, if you are arrested for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. However, there are situations that can and will result in a felony DUI. Here are some examples of felony DUI’s:

  1. Fourth or More DUI

A fourth, or more, arrest for DUI, within a ten-year period, will automatically be filed as a felony. A felony is obviously more serious in terms of the consequences but it also has a more serious long-term effect on a person’s life. A conviction for a 4th DUI typically requires jail time. However, depending upon the individual’s circumstances, alternative sentencing may be an option. For someone who has a family and a job, and who may be the sole support of their family, an aggressive DUI defense lawyer is absolutely crucial. Getting creative with the sentencing that will both satisfy the Court and help the individual keep their job, should be the goal of the attorney.

DUI, or driving under the influence, charges are typically charged as misdemeanors. However, some DUI’s can be charged as felonies. The circumstances under which an arrest for DUI may result in a felony filing, may include the following:

1. DUI Manslaughter – This is also referred to as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence. The penalty, if convicted depends upon the circumstances but can be up to 1 year in county jail, or 4,6 or 10 years in state prison. However, in a situation where someone has one or more prior convictions for driving under the influence or, certain other vehicular felonies, the sentence can be 15 years to life in state prison. DUI manslaughter can also be charged as murder under certain circumstances. Anytime someone is convicted of a dui, the judge will advise the defendant of the dangers of driving under the influence and, caution them that if they do it again and it results in the death of another person, they may be charged with murder.

2. DUI causing serious injury – Someone who drives while intoxicated and who causes injury to another person, is sometimes referred to as a “wobbler” charge. A “wobbler” means that it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. However, prosecutors typically pursue the charge that carries the most punishment, but the deciding factor typically depends upon how serious the injuries of the other person are. If the situation is such that a complete dismissal is unattainable, and the case is filed as a felony, the obvious focus is on having the felony reduced to a misdemeanor.