Watson Murder DUI

"Watson murder" is a form of California Penal Code 187, second-degree murder. Oftentimes, it is charged when someone with a prior California DUI conviction kills someone while driving under the influence. “Watson murder” takes its name from a 1981 California Supreme Court case called People v. Watson. In that case, the court held that a DUI driver who causes a fatal accident can be convicted of murder (Penal Code 187) if the driver acted with “implied malice.” 

What is “implied malice” in a DUI murder case?

“Implied malice” is also known as “malice aforethought.” It does not require ill will toward the victim or an intention to cause the victim's death. Rather, a defendant acts with implied malice when:

  1. He or she intentionally commits an act (in this case driving under the influence); 

  2. The natural and probable consequences of the act are dangerous to human life;

  3. At the time the defendant acts he or she knows the act is dangerous to human life; and

  4. The defendant deliberately acts with conscious disregard for human life.

The difficult part for the prosecutor is proving that the driver acted with a “conscious disregard for human life.”If the prosecutor cannot do this, a California DUI that results in death will usually be charged as either:

Factors that increase the likelihood of a DUI murder charge

As a practical matter, a prosecutor is most likely to charge a defendant with Watson murder when he or she:

  • Had a very high blood alcohol content (“BAC”) (typically 0.15% or more);

  • Had multiple prior convictions for drunk and/or drugged driving; and/or

  • Engaged in extremely reckless driving, such as:

    • Driving at excessive speed,

    • Engaging in an exhibition of speed or speed contest, or 

    • Felony reckless evading of a peace officer.

Penalties for DUI murder in California

Punishment for DUI murder in California can include:

  • Fifteen (15) years to life in the California state prison;

  • A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000); and

  • A “strike” on the defendant's criminal record under California's “Three Strikes” law.

Legal defenses to Watson murder

Legal defenses to California DUI murder charges often include taking the position that:

  • The defendant did not drive under the influence,

  • The accident was not the defendant's fault,

  • The defendant did not act with implied malice.

Watson Murder FAQs – California DUI Second Degree Murder

What is the difference between second degree murder and first degree murder?

What is the Watson Advisement?

How many prior DUI convictions do I need to have in order to be charged with second degree murder?

What if other victims were severely injured in the accident but did not die? Am I subject to more punishment?

What does it mean to get a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law?

It is possible to reduce a second degree Watson Murder charge to a lesser offense?