A man in California is facing murder charges after driving under the influence (DUI) and causing a crash that killed an 8-year-old boy. The murder charges come from a unique aspect of California DUI law called a “Watson Murder.”
Fatal Crash Leads to DUI and Murder Charges
The crash happened in Selma, California, on February 23, 2019. A driver going nearly 100 miles per hour ran a stop sign and t-boned a car at the intersection of East Rose Avenue and South Bethel Avenue. An 8-year-old boy in the car died, and both of his parents were seriously hurt.
The driver was arrested and charged with DUI. Because he was driving on a suspended license from a 2016 DUI conviction, and because he had received a prior admonition about the dangers of drunk driving, prosecutors are now pressing second-degree murder charges against the driver. These charges carry 15 years to life behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000. They also put a “strike” on a defendant's criminal history for California's infamous “Three Strikes” law.
California is one of the only states that uses such a harsh sentencing structure for DUI cases.
“Watson” Murders and Tahl Waivers in California
In California, second-degree murders are those done with “malice aforethought.” Courts can imply this malice from conduct that is done with a conscious disregard for human life.
This matters for DUI cases in California because a prior Supreme Court of California case, People v. Watson, had decided that people who drive while under the influence can carry this “malice aforethought” if they have already been formally warned about the dangers of drunk or drugged driving.
Since the Watson case in 1981, people who get convicted for DUI in California are given a “Watson Admonition.” Most of the time, this oral admonition comes from the judge during a DUI defendant's sentencing hearing. The judge tells the defendant that driving under the influence is dangerous and that it can lead to murder charges if they kill someone while driving under the influence in the future. In other cases, the Admonition can come during the driving school class that DUI defendants often have to attend after a conviction.
In cases where a driver pled guilty to DUI, part of their guilty plea involves signing a “Tahl Waiver,” which acknowledges that the defendant has read a statement identical to the Watson Admonition.
Most of the time, these Admonitions and Waivers play no part in a person's life after a DUI conviction. However, in rare circumstances where they drink and drive and cause a fatal accident in California, they can be used as evidence that elevates the crime from a second offense of DUI to a second-degree murder charge.
DUI Defense Lawyer Steve Karimi Serves Seattle
Washington does not resolve to such ruthless measures to deter a second DUI. However, the penalties that are often on the table for a second offense are not light, either.