If your DUI involved someone’s death, and you have prior DUI convictions, you can potentially be charged with murder.
DUI murder is both one of the rarest DUI charges and one of the most serious. Although it’s hard for a prosecutor to prove murder in a DUI case, it does happen and the results can derail an individual’s entire life. Any DUI ending in death is tragic, but none are intentional—and you do not deserve to be treated as a murderer. You need to protect yourself.
What is DUI murder?
In California, DUI murder is not a separate criminal charge. It’s just a regular second-degree murder charge under CA Penal Code 187. Second degree murder does not mean that you intended to kill anyone when you got behind the wheel. However, it does mean you acted with “implied malice.” This phrase means that your behavior implies a conscious disregard for the life of another.
DUI murder is also sometimes called “Watson murder.” This is named after a 1981 California Supreme Court case called People v. Watson. Before this case, it was not considered possible to convict someone of murder for a DUI death. The Watson decision changed that.
Who gets charged with DUI murder?
Normally, DUIs that involve deaths are charged as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The DUI murder charge is only used if you have a previous DUI on your record and:
- You were specifically warned by the court that future DUIs could become murder charges, or,
- You went through DUI school, which warns all students that DUI can count as murder.
If either of these circumstances apply, then the court considers that you knew how dangerous DUI driving is, and you knew when you got behind the wheel that you could kill someone. This is how they build the case for “implied malice.”
What are the penalties for DUI murder?
The penalties depend on how many people were affected by the accident. All DUI murder conviction result in:
- 15 years to life in state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
If more than one person was killed, you may face multiple counts of murder, with additional prison time for each one.
Or, if other people were injured in the accident rather than killed, and they suffered great bodily injury, you will face:
- 3 to 6 years additional prison time for one injured person
- An additional 1 year of prison for each additional injured person, up to 3 years max
So you could have up to 9 years of prison added onto your sentence for injured survivors, on top of the 15 years or more for murder.
DUI murder is one of the most serious charges you can face. You shouldn’t let it destroy your life. You may feel guilty after your accident, but you still have a right to defend yourself. A good lawyer may be able to reduce the charge or help you find a way out.
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