Two years ago, a man was arrested for driving under the influence after running a red light and killing a 14-year old girl. This week, that man was convicted of second-degree murder and DUI causing injury. The accident occurred on Memorial Day weekend in 2011. He was driving his pickup truck at about 1:15am when he ran the light at the intersection of Culver Drive and Irvine Boulevard and hit a Mercedes-Benz carrying five people.
In the Mercedes were four teenage girls who were being driven home from a birthday party by one of the girl's father. Four were injured by the impact and one of the girls was kept on life support just long enough so that her organs could be donated. After the crash, the driver of the pickup was transported to Orange County Jail where he was booked on suspicion of felony drunk driving. According to court records, the man already had a long rap sheet that included a DUI conviction two years prior.
Prior convictions on top of an already serious felony DUI led to the second-degree murder and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury charges. In many cases, DUI accidents are not classified as murder. According to the California Penal Code § 191.5(a), driving under the influence causing the death of another can result in a vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charge. Both are felonies punishable by up to ten years in prison. This statute also allows the sentence of life imprisonment for those with prior DUI convictions.
When DUI is charged as a second degree murder in California, it can also be referred to as a "Watson Murder." This alludes to a case that was heard in California Supreme Court, People v. Watson. The ruling in this DUI resulting in death case essentially created second degree murder for DUI in California. Although rare, we can see from this case that Watson murders do occur. To be convicted of second degree DUI murder, the state must prove that:
- An intentional action led to the death;
- The known consequences of the act performed are life-threatening; and
- The defendant knew that their actions were life-threatening and acted anyway.
Although this is the most extreme type of DUI, it differs from first degree murder in that there was no intent to kill. The court ruled that the driver in this case was aware he was intoxicated, knew that drunk driving could cause a serious or fatal accident, and got in his car to drive anyway. If you would like to learn more about felony DUI charges or are looking for aggressive defense against your own drunk driving charges, please contact the firm today for a free case evaluation.