Implied malice is a legal standard the prosecutors have to meet to prove a DUI murder case. It means that your actions implied a conscious, wanton disregard for human life.
Ever since the landmark 1981 California Supreme Court decision in People v. Watson, California prosecutors have 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 hurt someone and didn’t 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 don’t get out of the way, I’m not stopping,” and then hit someone, that is express malice.
Express malice is very rare in DUI cases. DUI drivers almost never set out wanting to hurt someone. Thus, implied malice is much more important.
Implied malice simply means that your actions implied a willingness to hurt others. In other words, by looking at how you acted, it’s obvious that you knew you could kill someone.
Most DUI drivers do not feel this way. When they got behind the wheel, they did not want to hurt anyone at all; often, they weren’t even in a clear state of mind to think about the consequences. This is why the use of implied malice in DUI cases remains somewhat controversial. However, because of the People v. Watson decision, it is allowed and prosecutors can charge DUI drivers with murder.
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 weren’t aware of the risks, then there was no way you were acting with malice, because you didn’t realize you would likely hurt someone.
Because of this, prosecutors won’t usually try a murder charge with a first-time DUI defendant, even if there was a death involved. They will usually only try a murder charge on repeat offenders who fit one of these two categories:
- 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
- After your previous DUI, you attended DUI school and learned about the dangers of drunk driving.
Murder charges are serious, but they’re also hard to prove in a DUI case. You can learn how to defend against a DUI murder charge here.
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