Getting arrested for driving under the influence carries serious penalties, especially if you cause an accident or an injury. But could you get arrested for murder after a DUI? In some instances, the answer is yes.
A DUI charged as a murder is often known as a "Watson murder." The name comes from a California Supreme Court case called
The People v. Watson
. In that case, the defendant Robert Watson had a history of DUI arrests. One night, he drove drunk after drinking a large amount of beer until the early morning hours of January 3, 1979. When driving home from the bar, he first ran a red light and narrowly avoided a collision. He sped away from that near accident and approached another intersection, where he struck a car at nearly 70 miles per hour. The three occupants of the car were ejected from the vehicle, and a mother and her six-year-old daughter were killed. At the time of the accident, Watson's blood alcohol level was 0.23.
Watson was charged with two counts of second degree murder and two counts of vehicular homicide. Initially, the judge in the case dismissed the murder counts because there was insufficient evidence to prove that Watson had acted with malice, a required element of a second-degree murder charge.
The case was appealed to the state supreme court, which disagreed with the lower court. The Supreme Court found that there was nothing preventing prosecutors from charging Watson with murder, assuming the prosecution could prove malice. The Supreme Court noted that in these types of cases, malice can be implied when a person deliberately commits an act which he or she should know endangers the lives of others or shows a conscious disregard for the lives of others.
case, the Supreme Court did not decide whether Watson was guilty of second degree murder. However, the Court did state that there was probably sufficient cause to charge him with the crime. The fact that he willingly consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication knowing that he had to drive later showed a conscious disregard for others' safety. In addition, he drove his car at very high speeds through a suburban area even after almost causing an accident. The court wrote that the combination of these facts would support a finding of implied malice.
As a result of the
case, prosecutors are able to charge defendants with a Watson murder if they meet these three requirements:
- The defendant committed an intentional act that caused someone's death;
- The natural consequences of the defendant's actions were dangerous to human life; and
- The defendant acted with knowing disregard of the danger.
In order to make it easier to meet these requirements, all courts in California require people who plead guilty to DUI to sign what is known as a Watson advisement. This advisement states:
I understand that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs my ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If I continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and as a result of my driving, someone is killed, I can be charged with murder.
Signing a Watson advisement means that a defendant who drives again while intoxicated already has notice that his or her actions are dangerous and that murder charges for driving under the influence and causing a death are possible.
Facing murder charges after a DUI is a frightening prospect. If you or someone you love caused an accident while driving under the influence, it is important to seek experienced help as soon as possible. At the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, our attorneys are skilled at handling the most complicated DUI cases and can help you assess your options. To learn more or schedule an appointment, contact our office today by calling 866.902.6880 or visit us online at