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Felony DUI, Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated and Watson Murder

Felony DUI, Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated and Watson Murder

Many of us understand that a DUI can be a felony.  It can be a felony when the driver causes injury to others or when the driver has prior convictions for DUI within the last ten years.  This article is aimed at DUI’s causing injury.

When we are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both, and we drive, we can be charged with DUI.  Felony DUI requires that we injure someone other than ourselves.  Felony DUI and related charges take several forms.  There is a “simple” felony DUI where only modest injuries are caused.  Felony DUI causing injury is punishable by up to 4 years in state prison.

There are also enhancements in the law for causing “great bodily injury” or even death to another. For causing injury or death there could be a one year enhancement per victim and for great bodily injury or GBI, an additional 3 years.

Next, there are manslaughter charges stemming from DUI arrests.  This takes two forms:  There is simple vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated which carries up to 4 years in prison.  Also, there is gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated which carries up to 10 years in prison for a first offense.

So far, we have only talked about what we call “fixed terms”.  These are prison terms consisting of a specific number of years.  After serving the term in prison, one would ultimately be released on parole.  By contrast, two DUI related offenses are not fixed terms.  Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with a prior DUI conviction carries 15 to life.  The same is true for “Watson Murder” which we will cover next.

Murder can be either first or second degree.  First degree murder is a crime which was premeditated and deliberated with malice aforethought.  Premeditated and deliberated means that someone thought about their actions and considered them beforehand.  Malice aforethought means an intent to kill or in reckless disregard of human life.  This type of murder does not include DUI.  Second degree murder is murder is all the other types of murder.  A fairly new theory of murder came from a case called:  People vs. Watson.

In the Watson case, Mr. Watson drove to a bar, drank a lot of beer and drove home some time later.  Witnesses described his driving as double the speed limit and failing to obey traffic signals.  He barely avoided one crash and then was involved in another crash that killed two people and injured a third person.  His blood alcohol thirty minutes after the accident was .23 or almost three times the legal limit.

The California Supreme Court indicated his conduct was offensive that they determined he had a maligned heart. The Court said he could be charged with second degree murder because his conduct was in reckless disregard of human life.   By describing Watson’s actions this way, the court was able to “impute” or add malice to the factual scenario and elevate the conduct to murder in the second degree.  You can read the entire case here:

Second degree murder is punishable by fifteen years to life in prison.  This means that if someone is convicted of such a crime, they could spend the rest of their life in prison although they could be eligible for parole after serving about thirteen years of their sentence.

If you or someone close to you has been arrested for DUI, DUI causing injury, vehicular manslaughter, or any other driving offense, from misdemeanor to Watson Murder, call a veteran criminal defense lawyer with a proven track record who can help.

Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 Email me at:

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