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The Distinction Between DUI Manslaughter and DUI Murder


What is DUI Manslaughter?

If you drive while intoxicated by drugs and alcohol and get into an accident that causes the death of another person, you could be charged with DUI manslaughter or DUI murder, depending on the case specifics. The court can find you guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, with the penalties being more severe for a DUI felony.

DUI defense lawyers in San Bernardino County explain that DUI manslaughter charges are more common than DUI murder charges but are one of the most severe offenses in California. It occurs when someone drives under the influence, gets into an accident, and causes the death of another person.

To be convicted of the crime, the prosecution attorney must show beyond reasonable doubt that you were intoxicated and caused a fatal accident. DUI manslaughter is a crime that involves ordinary negligence but not wholly irrational behavior. You will face charges for gross vehicular manslaughter if the court determines your actions were reckless, dangerous, and unreasonable.

What Are the Penalties for DUI Manslaughter?

If convicted of DUI manslaughter as a misdemeanor, the court could impose the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment for up to one year in county jail
  • Fines of up to $1,000
  • Paying restitution to the victim’s family
  • Probation
  • License suspension for one year

San Bernardino County murder DUI lawyers highlight that felony DUI carries more severe penalties, including:

  • Probation
  • Driver’s license suspension or revocation for at least three years
  • Paying restitution to the victim’s family
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • A sentence of up to 10 years in a California state prison
  • An additional year in prison for every injured survivo
  • An additional 3-6 years imprisonment if any survivor sustained severe bodily injury.

If you have a prior conviction and are charged with a felony DUI manslaughter, your prison sentence could be extended to 15 years to life imprisonment. Defending yourself against DUI manslaughter or murder charges can be complex, so retain skilled DUI attorneys in San Bernardino County to help you.

What is DUI Murder?

DUI murder charges in California are complicated. In the past, the law required the prosecutor to prove intentionality for an offender to be convicted. However, the California Supreme Court in 1981 ruled that intentionality doesn’t need to be established for DUI murder to be deemed as such.

Watson Murder

California refers to DUI murder charges as “Watson murder” after a case titled People v. Watson. The court ruled that a driver who causes a deadly accident while intoxicated can be convicted of DUI murder if the court establishes they acted with “implied malice,” which is when:

  • A driver intentionally commits an act (DUI)
  • The probable consequences of the act are dangerous to human life
  • The offender acts knowing that their behavior is harmful to human life
  • The defendant deliberately acts while consciously disregarding human life

In DUI murder charges, courts primarily consider the offender’s prior DUI conviction. Once convicted of a DUI for the first or subsequent time, you’re informed that driving under the influence can lead to the death of others. This is known as a Watson admonition.

If you commit another DUI that leads to a fatality after signing the warning, you’re considered to have ignored a formal warning about drunk driving. The interpretation is that you made a deliberate choice to drive while knowing the behavior posed the risk of killing another person. You will be charged with DUI murder, which is second-degree murder.

What Are the Penalties for DUI Murder?

DUI murder is not a separate crime, but it encompasses a situation where you can face charges for second-degree murder under Penal Code 187 for committing a deadly DUI. The penalties are as follows:

  • 15 years to life imprisonment in state prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • You will carry a felony status, which can have life-changing consequences, such as hindering you from employment opportunities.

Second-degree murder is a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes system, which means you could get severe extra penalties if you get a third strike, including the possibility of 25 years to life imprisonment.

What Are the Differences Between DUI Manslaughter and DUI Murder?

The law provides a clear distinction between DUI manslaughter and DUI murder. Manslaughter is death due to ordinary or gross negligence of the safety of others. For example, running a stop or red light is ordinary negligence, while gross negligence entails more dangerous behavior. In most DUI cases causing death, a driver acts negligently but has no malicious intent to kill.

Murder is death due to malicious behavior or reckless disregard for human life. Second-degree murder is the unplanned killing of someone based on malice or known disregard for human life.

DUI is a danger to people, and the behavior is considered implied malice. DUI murder charges are often pressed against offenders with previous DUI convictions.

A Skilled DUI Lawyer Helping You Understand the Difference Between DUI Manslaughter and Murder

If you commit a DUI offense that results in the death of another person, you could face charges of DUI murder or DUI manslaughter. The crimes are severe, and you risk hefty penalties, such as one year to life imprisonment if convicted, depending on the circumstances.

Defending against the charges can be complex, but retaining skilled murder DUI lawyers in San Bernardino County can enhance the chances of a favorable outcome. The team at Patrick Silva, Attorneys at Law, can push back against the prosecution’s charges to have the charges dropped or penalties reduced. A lot is at stake, and you can’t afford to be casual about the charges. Call us at 909-500-4819 to schedule a FREE consultation for aggressive legal representation.

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