Can I be Charged with Murder if I’m Involved in a DUI Accident?

November 19, 2021 by Alexandra Carter in California  DUI  
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Murder – Penal Code 187

A question we often see at Esfandi Law Group is, “Can I be charged with murder if I’m involved in a DUI accident?” The answer is yes. In this post, we’ll detail how and under what circumstances, as well as what you should do if you find yourself in a similar situation.

If someone was killed as a result of your impaired driving, you can face a DUI murder charge. This charge follows the normal second-degree murder charge under California Penal Code 187, which states:

“(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”

You may be thinking, “but I did not have any intentions to hurt anyone.” Under California law, to be convicted of murder in DUI cases, all that’s required is “implied malice,” which does not require ill will toward the victim or any intention of causing their death. Instead, you act with “implied malice” by simply:

  1. Intentionally committing an act (in this case, driving while intoxicated),
    The natural and probable consequences of the said act are dangerous to human life,
  2. At the time of the act, you are aware it is dangerous to human life, and
    You deliberately act without conscious regard for human life.

“What charges will I face?”

What charges you’ll face will depend on the circumstances of the crash and your prior criminal record, particularly how it relates to DUIs. If you have no prior DUI convictions at the time of the accident, you’ll likely face charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Under California law, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is defined as:

“Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving violated Section 23140, 23152, or 2f3153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, unlawfully, and with gross negligence.”

There are certain factors that separate vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated from gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and therefore the grossly negligent act must be separate from the actual DUI offense. The grossly negligent offense must also either be a California misdemeanor or an otherwise lawful act that could result in death.

On the other hand, if you have prior DUI conviction(s) on your record at the time that you subsequently killed someone in a DUI accident, you’ll be charged with DUI murder.

Let’s dive in further to these charges and their penalties and punishments.

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

If you’ve never been convicted of DUI, and somebody dies in an accident that was caused by your drunk driving, you may be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. This charge is quite common when a death occurs due to alcohol in a crash. But, the prosecution still has the burden to prove that you did something other than driving under the influence that exhibited additional negligence to cause the death — such as texting while driving, failing to obey traffic laws, or behaving in some type of risky or illegal way. This misdemeanor charge results in:

  • Up to one year in jail
  • A $1,000 fine
  • All additional California DUI penalties

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is an enhanced charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and can be charged as a felony under certain circumstances. People convicted of this charge in California may face:

  • Four or more years in prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

DUI Murder

DUI murder is the same charge as second-degree murder in California, and second-degree murder does not mean that you had any intention of killing someone as there was no “implied malice” when you got behind the wheel drunk.

But, if death did occur due to an accident while you were drunk, you will likely be charged with what’s known as Watson Murder. This is a form of second-degree murder in California when a person with a prior DUI conviction in the Golden State kills someone while driving while intoxicated from drugs or alcohol. Watson Murder charges carry the following penalties:

  • Up to 15 years in state prison. If other people were also hurt in the accident, you can be sentenced to an additional three-to-six years for the first injured person and up to one year for each additional injured person — with a maximum of three years.
  • Up to $10,000 fine.

Seppi Esfandi Can Help

Charged with DUI?

If you’ve recently been arrested and/or charged with any type of DUI or murder charge, it’s critically important that you find a skilled criminal defense attorney ASAP. Seppi Esfandi has decades of experience fighting for the rights of his clients. With his storied background in criminal law, he has helped thousands of clients in a wide spectrum of criminal cases. Contact Seppi Esfandi now for a free case review.

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