What is a Watson Advisement in a DUI case?
A Watson advisement in a DUI case is a special warning, that will be read to you if you plead guilty to a DUI, or to a related charge. For an Orange County DUI, the court will read aloud the following statement to the defendant:
“You are hereby advised that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Therefore, it is extremely dangerous to human life to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both. If you continue to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both, and, as a result of that driving, someone is killed, you can be charged with murder.”
All Orange County courts taking a plea of DUI require the signing of a “Watson” Advisement as part of a standard DUI plea bargain in order to lay the foundation for prosecution of a second degree murder charge if there was another, later, DUI that results in a fatality.
Upon signing the “Watson” Advisement or acknowledging the California Vehicle Code section 23593 advisement during sentencing, the defendant is essentially helping the prosecutor prove a case for murder if the present driver drives drunk and kills someone in the future.
How did the Watson Advisement in a DUI case start?
In the past, a driver involved in a fatal traffic collisions while under the influence were charged with manslaughter. The sentence on a manslaughter conviction is significantly less than what is imposed on a murder conviction, which can result in a life sentence. However, in the landmark 1981 People v. Watson case, the California Supreme Court held that a DUI driver who causes a fatal accident can be charged with second degree murder under certain circumstances. Those circumstances, as you might guess, involve being warned of the possibility of a murder charge if there is a fatal DUI accident in the future.
To prove a murder charge, an Orange County DUI prosecutor must be able to show that the defendant specifically knew that driving under the influence is inherently dangerous and can result in the loss of life. Typically, this is done by having all DUI defendants sign or initial a Watson advisement before pleading to a DUI charge. If the prosecutor cannot show that this advisement was given to the defendant, he or she would be unable to prove murder, although a lesser charge of gross vehicular manslaughter may be applicable.
What is the punishment for a Watson Advisement in a DUI case?
Those convicted of Watson murder can be sentenced to serve between 15 years and life in a California state prison. This offense is a serious felony that is considered a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes law. If any surviving victim suffered great bodily injury as a result of the DUI collision, the defendant could be sentenced to an additional three to six years in prison that would be consecutive to whatever sentence was imposed on the Watson murder charge.