A Watson murder is among the most severe types of DUI offenses. It involves causing the loss of someone else’s life due to driving under the influence. Because of the seriousness of the charge, an accused person could face stringent criminal charges. If found guilty, a Watson Murder DUI charge attracts long prison sentences, with a possible maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Based on the possibility of facing significant consequences, finding a reliable DUI defense attorney to handle your matter and prepare helpful case strategies is necessary.
Moreover, you will need to work closely with your defense attorney to create the best chance of winning your DUI case or receiving a lower sentence. From the requirement to make constant interactions with your attorney, you need a lawyer who will focus on your needs and endeavor to provide the best legal services. At Bakersfield DUI Attorneys, we focus on implementing the best criminal DUI defense strategies to help clients who are faceing a DUI Watson murder charge. Our experienced team is ready to work with clients facing a DUI homicide charge in Bakersfield, California, to get a favorable outcome.
The Definition of a Watson Murder and DUI Homicide
Section 187 of the California Penal Code defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Additionally, the section distinguishes between different kinds of murder, depending on the wilful and deliberate intention of the suspect before or during the act. From the provisions, Watson murder falls under the second-degree category that entails a wilful but not deliberate action.
The source of the “Watson” murder title is from the case of R V Watson, where the presiding judge held that a driver who kills a person due to driving under the influence could face convictions under section 187 P.C, provided he/she acted willfully. The verdict was in line with the provisions of second-degree murder cases that do not require a defendant to have ill-motive during or before the murder.
Therefore, an accused facing the Watson DUI charge should understand the elements of the crime that the prosecutor intends to present against him/her. Afterward, the accused party should build defense strategies with a defense attorney’s help to prepare for the prosecutor’s presentations and anticipate several points of discussion. Additionally, there are common characteristics associated with a DUI Watson murder charge, based on recurring case facts from different arrested persons facing the criminal charge. Learning of these common characteristics can help you prepare for the filing of the DUI homicide charge, for a helpful point of reference upon arrest.
Usually, suspects who face the charge will have engaged in extreme reckless driving practices that portray a complete disregard for human life. For example, if you and other arrested suspects participated in a street race while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the events will serve as a reference point for the prosecutor to show your extreme recklessness.
The use of excessive speeds also counts as recklessness for the charge, especially because the behavior comes from your impaired judgment while under the influence. If you also ignored traffic lights and signs that were crucial in preventing accidents, the prosecutor will use your actions to back his/her claims of your extreme recklessness.
Further, when you try to evade a peace officer while under the influence, you may drive recklessly, as your focus will be to lose sight of the officer. In most cases, suspects who evade officers while under the influence end up making incorrect lane changes and sudden accelerations, creating chaos on the highway. Consequently, the chances of severe accidents occurring are higher based on the driver’s dangerous driving and impaired judgment.
Secondly, you are likely to face a Watson murder charge if you have multiple prior DUI convictions. The logic behind this is from the numerous rehabilitative programs that you will have attended after receiving mandatory orders from the previous sentences. From the DUI classes, the prosecutor’s argument will be that you ought to have understood the dangers of driving under the influence, including the risk of a DUI homicide. Hence, the prosecutor will run through the investigation material produced by the officers working on your case to check for any previous DUI school attendance.
On top of this, you may face the DUI homicide charge if your BAC test results were significantly higher than the legal 0.08% limit. Here, the inference applied in entering the Watson murder charge is your decision to drive despite the excessive alcohol consumption. Doubtless, a suspect will have a very high amount of blood alcohol concentration for a BAC reading of above 0.15%. Thus, the prosecutor will have the Watson murder charges as the top priority when filing a criminal case against you. You, therefore, want to stay ready and begin drafting argument strategies for use in the trial.
Elements of Crime the Prosecutor Must Prove in Your DUI Watson Murder Charge
When your Watson case proceeds to trial, the prosecutor officially takes on the role of presenting the case against you. Usually, the criminal law system imposes the burden of proof on the prosecutor to adduce evidence that will persuade the judge or jury to find you guilty. On top of this, the burden of evidence falls within two categories; the legal and evidential burden.
Under the legal burden requirements, the prosecutor will have to prove a fact in issue to persuade the judge on the correctness of the entire trial. Additionally, the prosecutor must satisfy the evidential burden of proof by providing sources that support the specific claims he/she makes against you. The evidential category includes sourcing proof like witness testimonies, surveillance footage, opinion evidence, DUI test results, and other analytical forms of evidence.
Therefore, the prosecution team works with various investigation officers to gather evidence from multiple sources in the main trial. Despite this, your DUI defense lawyer will have a chance to identify the evidence that the prosecutor has prepared to present against you during the discovery hearing. Hence, you do not need to worry about the use of surprise tactics during criminal proceedings, as they are not acknowledged as part of a fair hearing.
The crime elements for the prosecutor to prove are:
You Acted With Implied Malice
As mentioned, the determinant factor that guides the prosecutor in entering a DUI homicide charge against you is killing someone with implied malice. Usually, the element of crime does not require proof of premeditated ill-intention to kill the victim. Nonetheless, the prosecutor should prove that your subsequent actions were preventable and that you acted by choice. The evidence of implied malice also forms the basis for all other elements of crime, as they feed to the argument of having prior knowledge and understanding of the potential dangers of your DUI.
From the weight attached to proving your implied malice, the prosecutor will choose various argument strategies to include in building a criminal case. Firstly, he/she may provide proof of your special knowledge of the potential harm you would cause by driving under the influence. In this case, special knowledge includes having experience in unique fields of work. For example, if you work as an Emergency Medical Services paramedic, you will have acquired special knowledge on the severity of injuries experienced after a DUI accident.
Alternatively, work experience in the police force or in the firefighting department also equips you with special knowledge on the risks of driving under the influence and causing fatal collisions. Subsequently, details on your line of work may become admissible evidence to prove the criminal case against you.
The sources of proof used in backing the special knowledge claim may include attestations from your employer, acknowledging you as a worker in a specific department. Moreover, if your field of work requires you to undergo special emergency response training, the prosecutor may provide certificates of approval you received upon completing the course. In doing so, he/she will show that you received professional training on the dangers of DUIs and other reckless engagements, meaning you had special knowledge that drunk driving was harmful.
Apart from this, the prosecution may also prove your implied malice from past DUI penalties you faced. In this case, you must have been previously convicted of any DUI crime that warranted you to attend rehabilitative and educational courses. Often, the penalties are issued under a probation sentence for the convicted person to attend a mandatory DUI school course. In California DUI schools, the instructors cover various subject matters, including the dangers of drunk driving to the individual and others around him/her. The effects of alcohol or drugs in your body are also discussed to help you understand the risks of exceeding the standard 0.08% BAC level.
From the guidelines you acquired from the programs, you are expected to implement the special knowledge to avoid driving under the influence in the future. Therefore, the subsequent arrest and criminal trial indicate your disregard for the particular knowledge, meaning that you acted with implied malice. You can expect the prosecutor to contact the department of justice and the DUI school you attended for sources of proof of your participation in the programs.
Finally, proof of implied malice may come from any documents you signed upon facing prior convictions for a DUI offense. In court, a defendant found guilty of a DUI crime will sign a Watson admonition document that ascertains several elements. Firstly, the document issues warnings on the dangers of driving under the influence and possible murder charges for a subsequent DUI offense. Secondly, the subject matter of the document includes a signed statement declaring your knowledge of the issued warnings and accept the imposition of subsequent Watson murder DUI penalties.
Using the signed admonition, the prosecutor acquires valid proof of your knowledge and understanding of all risks associated with DUIs. The court file related to your past convictions is essential, as it holds the signed document and the confirmation from a judge that you read and understood the Watson admonition content.
You Drove Under the Influence Intentionally
Moreover, the prosecutor must produce evidence to show that you wilfully drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol, leading to the fatal DUI accident. Hence, the prosecutor often has to engage investigation officers in finding information from events that occurred before you drove, or before causing the severe collision.
The sources of proof in showing your wilful intention to drive under the influence will mostly come from witness statements. The testimonies provided under oath should provide details concerning your behavior and statements made as you consumed alcohol or drugs, and later as you decided to drive. For example, if an acquaintance was around as you declared your intention to drive yourself home after a drinking spree, he/she may testify against you in court.
Apart from that, the DUI results retrieved after traffic officers administered the tests will play a pivotal role in giving the prosecution additional evidence. In most cases, the accident that results in second-degree murder attracts the traffic officers’ attention, meaning that they are likely to subject the test at the accident scene. Alternatively, the officers may form probable cause and arrest you, to issue the tests later at the police station.
Regardless of the location where you undertake a Blood Alcohol Concentration test, the results will be used as evidence to show that you were intoxicated. Section 23152 of the California Vehicle Code, makes it unlawful for a motorist to drive with a BAC level of 0.08% or more, as he/she would be mentally and physically impaired. From the legal provisions, you should only face arrest for a percentage higher than a 0.08% BAC reading.
More sources of proof may also come from your physical state immediately after the accident and during the DUI test administration. Common signs of intoxication that traffic officers look out for when forming probable cause to arrest you include:
- The color of your eyes
- Your ability to maintain balance when asked to exit your car
- The smell of your breath and the car
- Presence of alcohol bottles or drug paraphernalia in the car
- Any statements you make denoting intoxication.
- Your general behavior after causing the accident and before the arrest
Based on the police report analysis, the prosecutor can derive your state of intoxication. For example, having opened alcohol bottles in your car, coupled with a strong alcohol smell, is a strong source of proof to show that you were intoxicated.
You Knew About the Dangers of Driving Under the Influence
It is also vital for the prosecutor to demonstrate that you knew of the dangers of driving under the influence as part of showing implied malice. As discussed, several sources of proof are available, based on the circumstances of the case.
For example, if you have a previous criminal record in DUI violations, any admonition documents that you signed are admissible evidence to prove your knowledge of the potential harm. Similarly, certificates of completing a DUI school program are also acceptable in your case to serve the same evidentiary purpose
However, the prosecutor can also rely on case facts to determine that you were aware of the danger that you exposed to the victim of your DUI incident. In this case, witness testimonies or footage that prove your acknowledgment of being drunk and its dangers will support the prosecutor’s case. For example, footage that shows you admitting to being in trouble or putting others at risk can be used against you, as it expressly indicates your knowledge of the harm.
Additionally, communicating with any witnesses or officers after causing the fatal DUI accident to apologize or admit fault creates admissible proof that shows your knowledge of the harm. Therefore, we advise you to refrain from speaking to any officers without a lawyer present, as they may pressure you into giving self-incriminating information.
In court, these statements are often difficult to refute, primarily from retrievable sources like video or audio recordings. Nevertheless, your attorney can help question the statements for a possible chance of obtaining a favorable case outcome.
Your Actions were in Disregard for Human Life and Resulted in a Fatality
The requirement to prove that you disregarded the victim’s life is the conclusive element that links your actions to the DUI accident fatality. A person is said to disregard human life when he/she engages in extreme recklessness that no rational human being would undertake. Often, your actions will include the violation of crucial traffic laws, creating a safety hazard for all road users around you.
Moreover, the prosecutor has to show that the victim’s death was a direct and natural occurrence of your DUI. To do this, the prosecutor will refer to available highway surveillance footage showing your reckless driving moments before the accident.
He/she will also introduce witnesses to testify on the circumstances that occurred before the impact. The move may include opinion evidence from a professional accident reconstruction assessor who can determine the main cause of collision leading to death. Similarly, a medical professional may produce a post-mortem report that points out the exact cause of death.
It is vital to remember that the prosecutor’s arguments may change depending on the circumstances of your case. As a result, the crime elements in a DUI homicide charge revolve around your engagements, and some information will vary. You should also remember that the prosecutor’s case will only succeed if he/she proves your engagement in all four elements of the offense. Subsequently, your DUI defense lawyer should include arguments that challenge the prosecutor’s presentation by casting reasonable doubt on the evidence provided.
Applicable Defenses to a Watson Murder Charge
With the help of a DUI defense lawyer, you should prepare persuasive defenses that aim to convince the court of your innocence. Normally, preparing for defenses requires your attorney to apply extensive research concerning the issues for determination. Eventually, you will come up with a comprehensive defense strategy that includes the following arguments:
- You did not drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- There was police misconduct in administering DUI tests and arresting you.
- You did not have implied malice to cause an accident.
- External factors played a role in causing the accident, meaning that it was not your fault.
For each defense, your lawyer will provide a comprehensive argument that includes evidence to support your claims. We recommend getting in touch with your attorney beforehand to engage in a detailed discussion on the strategies to apply.
Penalties to the Offense of a Watson Murder
Upon the conclusion of the trial, the case will proceed to the sentencing stage. At this point, a judge or jury presiding over your case gives the verdict and sentences if any. When found guilty of a Watson murder, you need to appear during the sentencing hearing, as you will get a chance to issue mitigating statements before receiving punishment. The comments may move the court to consider a sentence reduction, despite the difficulty in doing so.
The penalties issued to a guilty defendant are quite severe, based on the crime’s characterization as second-degree murder. They are:
- Payment of fines of up to $10,000
- A prison sentence that runs for fifteen years to life, depending on your case
- A strike in your record, following the three-strikes law
On top of these punishments, you may receive additional penalties for causing subsequent injuries to other victims of the DUI-related accident. The imposition of additional sentences depends on the number of victims who obtained grievous bodily harm from the accident.
If any additional victim suffered great bodily harm, you might face an additional three to six years in state prison. Moreover, the penalties will increase for any other accident victim who suffered minor injuries. In this case, you may face an additional year in prison for every victim who sustained a minor injury. However, a limit of three years exists to mitigate the harshness of the sentence.
Contact a DUI Defense Attorneys Near Me
Dealing with a criminal charge is challenging, mainly if it attracts charges and penalties under the second-degree murder category. Most cases involving a Watson murder DUI occur without malice or intent, despite the victims and damages. However, trying to prove your innocence without a defense attorney may take a toll on you, based on the demanding nature of a criminal trial process.
Therefore, it is advisable to partner with an attorney who is conversant with the subject of your charges for a smoother process. At Bakersfield DUI Attorneys, we provide reliable legal services and representation in court to clients facing Watson murder charges in Bakersfield, California. To get in touch with us, call today at 661-215-5660.