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Watson Murder and DUI Defense Strategies in Criminal Law

There has been a bit of news lately about a DUI case in Western Los Angeles County.  A small and quiet community called Westlake Village had a terrible collision recently.  The driver was alleged to have been a woman named Rebecca Grossman of the Grossman Burn Center family.  It is alleged that Mrs. Grossman was speeding and possible even racing down a two lane street just South of the lake.  Speeds were estimated to have been near one hundred miles per hour in a 45 zone.  Sadly, she is said to have hit two small children who were crossing the street.  Both kids were killed in the accident.

The prosecutor, the Los Angeles County District Attorney recently filed charges against Grossman after what seems to be a lengthy investigation.  The DA filed both two counts of Watson Murder and Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while intoxicated.  If convicted, Ms. Grossman faces fifteen years to life in prison for either murder count.  Additional convictions would substantially increase her potential prison term.

In order to prove the Watson murder charge, the DA must establish malice.  This requires proof of a malignant heart or reckless disregard for human life.  The potential for a finding of malice in her case appears similar to the Watson case: That is People vs. Watson, the case that originally stood for the proposition that a DUI could be murder in certain circumstances.  The Watson case involved a driving pattern that could be described as reckless with high speeds, failure to stop at a traffic lights and unsafe passing movement.  The facts in the Grossman case allege driving near a residential neighborhood that is frequented by walkers, joggers, bike riders and others.  High speed is also alleged along with impairment from alcohol and possibly even street racing.

The defense in a case like this is extremely complicated and requires a well trained team working together.  A good lawyer would likely have hired an accident reconstruction specialist some time ago.  It is critical to get to crash sites and view vehicles before evidence is lost or destroyed.  Skid marks must be measured, streets and street surveys must be viewed, and lighting must be checked.  Vehicles must be inspected, often by engineers.  Photographs need to be taken.  We can never count on the police to provide an accurate picture of the accident scene.  Law enforcement often jumps to an early conclusion and then their investigation becomes slanted to that end.

Early on we would also deploy our own investigator.  The defense investigator would occupy several roles.  He would interview witnesses, take photographs, view evidence and provide another set of eyes and ears to the case.  I often find myself throwing ideas and thoughts back and forth with my private investigators. Another great values of a private investigator is in taking witness statements.  If a statement is taken by the investigator and the witness later becomes unavailable to testify or testifies contrary to a prior statement, the investigator may be called into court to testify to what the witness told him outside of court.

This is much the same way that a police officer can testify to what was told to him or her by a witness or the defendant.  The main difference though is that the investigator works for the defense lawyer and is bound by the attorney-client privilege.  Thus, if we come across a statement that is unfavorable, we will likely not be turning it over to the prosecution for use against our own client.

Finally, I would employ a blood alcohol specialist or forensic toxicologist or both.  This person would evaluate the state of the evidence, i.e., a blood sample or breath testing device.  They would do any analysis needed to determine that the testing procedures were accurate, and that the machinery was functioning properly at the time of the test or analysis.  Likewise, they would view the police reports and other evidence, including client statements to help assess things like drinking pattern, potential defenses like a rising blood alcohol, objective symptoms of intoxication and more.

Other strategies could include mitigation packages, early entry in a alcohol or drug treatment facility or psychological counseling.  I will explain each of these concepts in separate articles.

Serious cases require serious people to get the job done right.  Do you have the right people on your team?

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 serious felony, 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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