DUI 2nd Degree Murder (Felony “Watson Murder”)

In 1979, Robert Watson, who was highly inebriated and driving almost 85 mph in a 35 mph zone, caused a collision that resulted in the death of two people. He was charged not only with vehicular manslaughter, but with two counts of second-degree murder. After legal proceedings, the challenge to the murder charges ended up in the appellate court1. The appellate court found that Mr. Watson was more than grossly negligent (which would call for vehicular manslaughter charges only) because his conduct exhibited a wanton and conscious disregard for life, thereby supporting a finding of implied malice, which under the law could be charged as second-degree murder.

As an Orange County DUI 2nd degree murder attorney understands, the important take-away is this: When an intoxicated driver's conduct crosses a threshold from irresponsible negligence to an awareness of the risks, it goes from manslaughter to 2nd degree murder. In other words, a driver who crosses the line from driving dangerously to knowing and understanding that his or her dangerous driving could result in the death of another can be charged with 2nd degree murder.

The Watson case opened the way for the district attorney to charge second-degree murder in those cases where the prosecution alleges that a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs caused the death of another by intentionally driving in a manner that is dangerous to human life and with the knowledge that such driving posed a danger to human life. A driver who is charged with a "Watson murder" will be charged with 2nd degree murder under the Penal Code section 187 as well as the related DUI charges and likely with vehicular manslaughter under Vehicle Code section 191.5 as well.

A Watson murder charge can be challenged on several fronts. Not only can an experienced DUI 2nd degree murder attorney in Orange County look for challenges to the underlying DUI allegations and the arrest, but the prosecution must also show that the driver knew that his or her driving could result in the death of another and that the driver intentionally drove with that knowledge anyway. There is a fine line between simply driving dangerously and driving dangerously with a fully formed awareness that the act of dangerous driving could result in the death of another. Often the district attorney will charge 2nd degree murder when only vehicular manslaughter is warranted.

It is essential that the case against you is thoroughly examined. Often there is evidence or viable arguments that will defeat the charge or at least persuade the prosecution to negotiate to a lesser charge. An experienced Orange County DUI 2nd degree murder lawyer understands what the prosecution must prove and can identify the weakness in the prosecution's case. William Weinberg has represented DUI defendants, including those charged with 2nd degree murder, for over 20 years. He will diligently and vigorously defend your rights under the law. Contact Mr. Weinberg at any time to set up a confidential consultation with a DUI 2nd degree murder lawyer in Orange County without charge. He will work with you and your family to provide a fee structure that best suits your circumstances.


A conviction of second-degree murder carries serious penalties. A person who is charged and convicted of a Watson murder can be sentenced to state prison for a term of 15 years to life. In certain circumstances, the convicted driver to additional time in the state prison3. A Watson murder conviction counts as a strike under the three-strikes law.

1 People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290

2 Penal Code §190(a)

3 Such as when the person killed is a peace officer or if surviving victims suffer serious bodily injury

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