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Watson Murder- How a DUI related traffic fatality can lead to a 2nd Degree Murder Charge in California

It’s something you read in the paper all the time- “Traffic Fatality in Orange County, Driver Arrested Under Suspicion of Driving Under the Influence”. Especially with the death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and the very public trial that followed his being killed by a drunk driver, this issue comes up again and again in Orange County, and throughout Southern California.

Typically, if someone is under the influence of drugs and or alcohol, and kills someone in a traffic accident, they will be charged with “Gross Vehicular Man-slaughter while Intoxicated”. This charge carries with it a maximum punishment of 10 years in state prison.

However, some years ago the California Supreme Court ruled in The People v. Watson that if the prosecution can establish “Malice Aforethought” (which is basically wanton disregard for human life) in a case where someone killed another while driving under the influence, they can be charged with 2nd Degree Murder.

This ups the stakes tremendously due to the fact that a conviction of 2nd degree murder will result in a 15 year to life sentence. This means the defendant must serve at least 15 years before even being considered for parole. Even after 15 years, the defendant can be denied parole indefinitely- serving an entire life sentence perhaps. Factors that typically comes into play when prosecutors decide whether or not to file 2nd degree murder charge in a DUI related death is whether or not the defendant had a prior DUI; whether or not the defendant had notice that driving under the influence of alcohol of drugs is extremely dangerous to human life, etc.

If you or a loved one have been charged with 2nd Degree Murder based on a DUI or Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated, contact the experienced Southern California criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich. We’ve have been helping criminal defendants for over 30 years. Call us at (888) 280-6839 or visit us at www.wklaw.com.

About Wallin & Klarich

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Wallin & Klarich was established in 1981. Over the past 32 years, our law firm has helped tens of thousands of families in their time of legal need. Regardless of whether our clients faced criminal or DUI charges, the loss of their driving privilege, or wanted to clean up their criminal record, we have been there to help them.