the State Bar of California
the San Diego Union-Tribune
The Press-Enterprise

Watson Murders

In 1981, the California Supreme Court held in People v. Watson that a person who was driving under the influence of alcohol and caused a fatal traffic accident could be charged with second degree, implied malice murder in violation of Penal Code section 187. Now, this situation is commonly known as a Watson murder and these cases are extraordinarily serious. If convicted, you will be sentenced to a term of fifteen years to life in state prison. This means that you will have to serve nearly thirteen years in state prison before even being considered for the possibility of parole.

In order to be convicted of a Watson murder, the prosecution must establish that you committed an act that caused the death of another person, you had the mental state of “malice aforethought” at the time you acted, and that you acted without legal justification. Malice aforethought can be either direct or implied. In Watson murder situations, the prosecution always relies on the concept of “implied malice” to prove guilt. Implied malice simply means that the prosecution must prove that you knew driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs was inherently dangerous to human life, and yet, you acted anyway.

How do they prove this? Most Watson murder situations typically involve persons who have sustained one or more prior convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and are subsequently involved in another driving under the influence situation in which someone is killed as a result. In order to prove “implied malice” – that you knew driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs was inherently dangerous to human life – prosecutors will look to the underlying prior conviction(s) for driving under the influence to gather their evidence.

As part of the previous driving under the influence conviction(s), the person is typically required to sign what is known as a “Watson Advisement,” where he/she specifically acknowledges in writing, and often orally in open court at the time of the plea, that they understand that driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or the combined influence of both is inherently dangerous to human life. In many counties, the Watson Advisement” is actually a term that that is incorporated in the plea paperwork, which must be initialed and signed by the defendant. In a subsequent driving under the influence case where someone is killed, prosecutors will use the acknowledgements contained in the prior “Watson Advisement” to show that the defendant was specifically “on notice” about the dangers of engaging in such activity, but acted anyway, thereby establishing the implied malice component of the murder charge.

If you have already been charged or anticipate being charged with DUI homicide in the Murrieta area, contact your Murrieta DUI lawyer at the Law Office of Julie Ann Baldwin, APC for your free, confidential case consultation now. Your future and your freedom deserve to be taken seriously by an experienced attorney who is committed to quality representation and compassionate advocacy, every step of the way.

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