Implied Malice

Implied malice is a legal standard the prosecutors have to meet to prove a DUI murder case. It means your actions implied a conscious disregard for human life.

Suppose you are accused of driving under the influence (DUI) and are responsible for causing a motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of another. In that case, you could face additional criminal charges and penalties. If the prosecutor can prove implied malice, you could face murder charges as well. A Los Angeles DUI lawyer can help you protect your future and avoid the devastating consequences of a conviction. 

By working with the district attorney, we could get your charges reduced to a lesser offense. However, when this is impossible, our team will be ready to defend you in court so you can clear your name of these allegations. Here is more about how implied malice works and the impact this concept could have on your life:

What Is Implied Malice?

Ever since the landmark 1981 California Supreme Court decision in People v. Watson, California prosecutors have had the power to charge DUI drivers with murder if they caused an accident that took a life. However, proving these cases is not easy. The key to many such cases is a legal concept known as “implied malice.”

To understand implied malice, we need to look at how murder cases are proved in general. All murder cases require that the suspect behaved with “malice aforethought.” This is a mental state where the person either wanted to hurt someone or knew they were likely to harm someone and did not care.

But this malice can be either “express” or “implied.” Express malice means that the person made their intentions obvious. For example, if a driver said, “If they do not get out of the way, I am not stopping,” and then hit someone, that is a form of express malice.

Implied Malice in DUI Cases

Express malice is very rare in DUI cases. DUI drivers rarely set out wanting to hurt someone. Thus, implied malice is much more critical.

Implied malice means that your actions imply a willingness to hurt others. In other words, by looking at how you acted, it is apparent that you knew you could kill someone.

Most DUI drivers do not feel this way. They did not want to hurt anyone when they got behind the wheel. Often, they were not even in a clear state of mind to think about the consequences. This is why implied malice in DUI cases remains somewhat controversial, however, the People v. Watson decision allows prosecutors to charge DUI drivers with murder.

Watson Murder Factors

Certain factors must be present for Watson murder charges to apply. Implied malice is more likely in instances of fatal DUI accidents when the drunk driver:

  • Was engaged in significantly reckless driving
  • Knew that drunk driving was dangerous
  • Showed a conscious disregard for human life
  • Was legally intoxicated at the time of the collision
  • Intended to operate a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol

The district attorney will need to prove one or more of these factors are present to obtain a conviction for a Watson murder. 

Other Criminal Charges Related to Drunk Driving Deaths

Other criminal charges you could face if you have been accused of causing a death through drunk driving include the following:

  • Under California Penal Code 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges could apply. These are punishable by up to 10 years in a California state prison and fines as high as $10,000.
  • Under California Penal Code 191.5(b) vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated could apply. These are punishable by up to four years in a California state prison and fines not to exceed $10,000.

A Los Angeles DUI attorney can help you craft a strategic defense in response to the above charges. 

How Does a Prosecutor Prove Implied Malice?

To show implied malice—and to prove a murder charge—the prosecutor has to demonstrate that you were aware of the risks your actions caused. If you were unaware of the dangers, then there was no way you were acting with malice because you did not realize you would likely hurt someone.

Because of this, prosecutors will not usually try a murder charge with a first-time DUI defendant, even if death was involved. They will usually only try a murder charge on repeat offenders who fit one of these two categories:

  1. After your previous DUI, you signed a document called a Watson advisement saying you are now aware of the risks posed by driving under the influence, or
  2. After your previous DUI, you attended DUI school and learned about the dangers of drunk driving.

Murder charges are serious, but they are also hard to prove in a DUI case. You can learn how to defend against a DUI murder charge under CA Penal Code 187 – Murder.

Get Help from a DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles Today

Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney. Please fill out our confidential contact form or call our office for a free consultation today. 

Related Frequently Asked Questions