Felony DUI: Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated Charges Explained

Because driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol claims numerous lives across the U.S. each year, law enforcement officers are keen are enforcing DUI laws and getting impaired motorists off the road. However, not all DUI arrests are made before an accident occurs – some come after wrecks, injuries, or deaths have already taken place.

If you or someone you love is currently under investigation following a fatal motor vehicle accident, or have already been charged with a crime, it is important to understand the charges you face, as well as how proven criminal defense lawyers like those at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP can fight to protect your rights and future.

Types of Felony DUI Charges

In the state of California, there are several ways a motorist can face felony DUI charges. Aside from accidents resulting in juries, a fourth DUI within 10 years, and previous felony DUIs, one way is causing a fatal accident while under the influence. Under state law, there are also different charges one can face in relation to a fatal DUI accident:

  • Watson Murder (Second-Degree Murder) – If a person has been convicted of a DUI in the past and is later involved in a subsequent DUI that resulted in the death of another person, they could be charged with murder. A "Watson Murder," so named from the original case of People v. Watson (2000), comes with a minimum 15 year to life in prison sentence. One or more past DUI convictions is evidence enough to prosecute for a second-degree murder offense under the theory of implied malice, which states that the accused knew the risks they were undertaking in choosing to drive while intoxicated and still acted on them anyway. Intent to kill is not a factor – only the fact that they did kill. All drivers convicted of DUI receive a Watson advisement stating that they can be charged with murder under these circumstances in the future.
  • Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Motorists can be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if it can be proven that the driver caused an accident through more than an average act of negligence. In other words, they must have acted in a manner that a reasonable person would know is dangerous. For example, if a person drives through a school zone going 75 miles an hour while intoxicated, this would be an example of gross negligence. Penalties can include prison sentences of anywhere from 4 to 10 years, depending on whether aggravating circumstances (such as previous DUI convictions) are present.
  • Negligent Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Negligent manslaughter while intoxicated is similar to the above, but with negligence that does not amount to “gross” negligence. For example, if a drunk driver is driving their vehicle within the speed limit, but they cause a collision that kills another driver they took their eyes off of the road for only a moment, they may face this charge negligence. Depending on the facts of the case and the criminal history of the accused, a charge of negligent manslaughter can either be pursued as a felony or a misdemeanor, and can result in 1 to 4 years in prison.

Legal Help for DUI Manslaughter Charges

Felony DUI allegations of any type put a lot on the line. From considerable driver’s license repercussions to lengthy terms of imprisonment, the penalties associated with these crimes can forever alter the lives of individuals, and create tremendous challenges in the future. By working with experienced attorneys, you can protect your rights, freedom, and future when it matters most.

To discuss a potential case with a Los Angeles DUI lawyer at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, contact us for a free consultation.