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What’s a Watson murder?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

Most of the time, the prosecutor can’t bring a murder charge against a defendant unless there was an element of intent involved in the crime. California law calls this “malice aforethought.”

However, like many areas of the law, there are exceptions, and a Watson Murder is one of them. 

A 1981 case changed the rules for drunk driving offenses

The case known as People v. Watson was decided by the California Supreme Court in 1981, and it essentially altered the way that prosecutors were able to charge certain homicides involving repeat drunk drivers with prior convictions.

Under the Court’s ruling, a driver who has already been admonished that impaired driving is dangerous and potentially lethal has demonstrated “implied malice” simply by choosing to disregard the danger and put other people’s lives at risk. That admonishment is now part of the formal process at sentencing whenever a DUI is adjudicated, whether at trial or through a plea agreement. 

Essentially, a Watson Advisement at a DUI sentencing means the difference between a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter and murder, should you ever cause a fatal car accident while driving impaired. As far as the court is concerned, it doesn’t matter if your prior DUI was 10, 20 or 30 years ago – you were already on notice. 

This is one of the most significant long-range consequences that someone can face from a drunk driving conviction in California, which is why it is so important to have experienced legal guidance on your side when you’re charged with a DUI.