A “Watson advisement” is a formal statement you must sign after being convicted of DUI. It says you understand that driving under the influence can injure or kill people, and it can be used against you if you ever cause a DUI accident in the future.
If you are convicted of DUI in California, you will likely be required to sign a form known as a Watson advisement. If your local court requires this, it is mandatory and refusing to sign could carry penalties. Nearly all courts in California require it—even after a first time DUI.
The purpose of the Watson advisement is to create a legal record that you are aware of the dangers that DUI poses not only to yourself, but to others. If you are ever involved in another DUI in the future, and that DUI leads to an accident that injures or kills someone, you cannot claim that you didn’t understand the consequences. Legally, this means that you could be tried for second degree murder if your DUI kills someone.
The Watson advisement started with a California Supreme Court case, People v. Watson in 1981. In that case, the court found that an impaired driver can be held accountable for murder even if they didn’t set out planning to crash and kill someone. As long as they knew that driving under the influence could kill someone, getting behind the wheel intoxicated is an intentional act that threatens another’s life.
In legal language, this doctrine is known as implied malice. It means that someone whose actions imply a reckless disregard for human life is just as guilty as someone who expressly says they don’t care if they kill someone.
How does signing a Watson advisement affect my DUI case?
If you signed a Watson advisement and then never have another DUI charge, the advisement has no affect on you. Similarly, if you signed the advisement and your next DUI doesn’t hurt or kill anyone, the Watson advisement is largely irrelevant to your case.
However, if you signed a Watson advisement in the past and you have now been involved in a DUI accident that killed someone, you could potentially face a DUI murder charge, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison. If you had not signed the advisement, the same accident might only count as vehicular manslaughter which has much less serious penalties.
What does the Watson advisement say?
The wording of the standard Watson advisement is:
I understand that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs my ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. I understand that it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. I understand that 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.
If I never signed a Watson advisement, does that mean I cannot be charged with murder?
Not necessarily. Prosecutors may still build a DUI murder case against you if either:
- You are a repeat offender and there is other evidence that you were aware of the full dangers of driving under the influence (for example, because you completed DUI school after your previous conviction). Or,
- There is evidence that you acted with malice or a desire to hurt others.
If you were involved in any kind of DUI accident that took a life, it’s imperative that you have legal representation.
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