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.