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“Watson Advisal” & “Watson Murder”: DUI Lawyer Explains

What is a Watson Advisal in a DUI Case?

A “Watson Advisal,” also called a “Watson Advisement,” is a warning from a criminal court judge to a criminal defendant, who is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs (DUI), that informs the defendant that he or she will be charged with murder if he or she kills a person while DUI.

For example, at sentencing for David’s DUI conviction, David is warned by the sentencing judge that DUI is inherently dangerous to human life and that if David kills a person while DUI in the future then he will be charged with murder. Twelve years later, David kills Goliath while David is DUI (David’s 2nd DUI). Result: David is charged with a “Watson Murder” for his killing of Goliath. (See “Watson Murder”).

Note: If David kills Goliath while DUI, but David had not received a prior “Watson Advisement,” then David would normally be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, not a “Watson Murder.” (See “Watson Murder” below). Gross vehicular manslaughter carries a much lighter prison sentence than the prison sentence related to a “Watson Murder.”

The purpose of giving a “Watson Advisal” to a defendant convicted of DUI is to memorialize the fact that the defendant has notice that he or she will be charged with murder upon a subsequent DUI crime that results in death. The “Watson Advisement” stems from a case by a California criminal case by the same name (People v. Watson 30 Cal. 3d 20 (1981)).

Note: Prior to People v. Watson, California district attorneys did not file murder charges against defendants charged with DUI crimes that resulted in death. Rather, before 1979, which was the year of Robert Watson's DUI-Murder charge, defendants who killed another person while DUI were charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, not murder.

No “Watson Advisal”: As stated, a defendant who does not receive a “Watson Advisement” is usually charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, not murder, when he kills another person while DUI. However, a defendant may be charged with murder even if he or she never received the “Watson Advisal.” In fact, the defendant in People v. Watson was charged with, and convicted of, the crime of murder, despite the defendant not having received a prior “Watson Advisement.”

Note: The fact that a defendant may be charged with a “Watson Murder” without having received a “Watson Advisal” seems to obviate the need for the “Watson Advisal” in the first place. However, without the “Watson Advisement,” in order to prove murder by DUI, the district attorney would be required to show that the defendant acted with wanton disregard for the safety of others when he or she killed another person while DUI. This is what the district attorney was required to prove in the underlying case of People v. Watson. On the other hand, if the defendant has previously received a “Watson Advisal,” then the district attorney only needs to prove that the defendant was DUI when he or she killed another person in order to charge the defendant with murder.

Vehicle Code 23593: Today, the “Watson Advisement” is codified in California law at Vehicle Code Section 23593, which states:

The court shall advise a person convicted of a violation of Section 23103, as specified in Section 23103.5, or a violation of Section 23152 or 23153, as follows: “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.” (VC 23593(a)).

Type of Notice: The [Watson] advisory statement may be included in a plea form…or the fact that the advice was given may be specified on the [court] record (VC 23593(b) Abbrev.).

Note: In San Bernardino and Riverside County, the DUI plea forms included the “Watson Advisement.” Nevertheless, to ensure compliance, most criminal court judges in San Bernardino and Riverside County will restate the “Watson Advisement” on the record. Of Course, if the defendant is found guilty of any DUI crime after trial, as opposed to pleading ‘no contest’ or ‘guilty’ to the crime, then the plea paperwork will not apply.

Finally, the "Watson Advisal" is given to any defendant charged with misdemeanor DUI, felony DUI, or any DUI violation that is reduced to a "wet-reckless." Therefore, even if the defendant's prior DUI was reduced to a "wet-reckless," the defendant may still be charged with a "Watson Murder" if he or she kills another person in a subsequent DUI-related accident. See "Wet-Reckless" for more information.

What is a “Watson Murder” in California?

A “Watson Murder” is not a criminal violation that can be found in the California codes. Rather, a “Watson Murder” is the name of the crime that is given to a criminal charge where the defendant is alleged to have killed a person while the defendant was DUI, and when the defendant had previously received a “Watson Advisement.” (See “Watson Advisal” above).

The term “Watson Murder” is normally only used by criminal court judges, district attorneys, and DUI defense lawyers, who refer to the term to describe the evidence required to prove the criminal charge and the punishment associated with the criminal charge.

Note: When the defendant kills another person as a result of DUI, and the defendant had not previously received a “Watson Advisal,” the defendant is usually charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, not a “Watson Murder.”

“Watson Murder” Sentencing

In essence, a “Watson Murder” is a killing that occurs as a result of the defendant’s wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of others. When a defendant kills another person as a result of his or her wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of other, the district attorney may charge the defendant with second-degree “malignant heart” murder. Therefore, a “Watson Murder” is essentially the same as a “malignant heart” murder for purposes of penalties and prison sentence possibilities.

Prison Sentence: The prison sentence for a “Watson Murder” is the same as the prison sentence for a “malignant heart” murder: Fifteen years to life (15-life). This means that the defendant’s earliest parole from prison after a conviction for a “Watson Murder” is fifteen years.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision instead of jail or prison. A probation sentence is allowed in “Watson Murder” cases when “special circumstances” are present in the facts of the case that justify a probation sentence.

SB 38 DUI Classes: A defendant may be ordered to attend and complete a “drunk driving” program. Because most “Watson Murder” cases are based upon two or more prior DUI convictions, the defendant is usually ordered to attend and complete an eighteen (18) month multiple-offender DUI program known as “SB 38 DUI Classes.”

Note: The SB 38 classes requirement is usually a “term of probation” when the defendant is convicted of a “Watson Murder” and he or she is granted a probation sentence. When the defendant is sentenced to prison after a "Watson Murder," then the SB 38 classes are not usually ordered until the defendant is placed on parole, if ever.

More "Watson Murder" Penalties: Other penalties associated with a “Watson Murder” are similar to those penalties associated with second-degree murder (See Second-Degree Murder).

Defenses to “Watson Murder”

Common defenses to a “Watson Murder” include: Evidence that demonstrates the defendant was not DUI at the time of the accident (involuntary manslaughter); the DUI evidence is not reliable; evidence that the defendant was not driving the vehicle that resulted in death; evidence that the defendant did not act with wanton or reckless disregard for human life despite DUI (No “Watson Advisal” case), and more.

To learn more about "Watson Advisal" or a DUI-related "Watson Murder," contact our DUI defense attorneys today. Our DUI criminal defense lawyers have successfully handled hundreds of DUI cases in San Bernadino and Riverside County, including the cities of Redlands, Fontana, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, San Bernardino, Yucaipa, Riverside, and more. Our DUI lawyers are award-winning criminal defense lawyers and winning trial lawyers. Our aggressive and experienced DUI lawyers are available seven days a week to answer your questions without charge. Call today!


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Watson Advisal Information: CA DUI Law & VC 23152


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