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Los Angeles DUI and the Watson Advisement


Los Angeles DUI and the Watson Advisement

Getting arrested for DUI is scary enough on its own. But in California, there’s an extra layer that ratchets up the fear. It’s called the Watson advisement. This is a warning officers here must give all DUI suspects about the potential for a murder charge if someone is killed as a result of their drunk driving.

This advisement stems from a 1981 California Supreme Court case called People v. Watson. The Watson decision established that a DUI driver who causes a fatal crash can be charged with second-degree murder under the theory of “implied malice.” Ever since, all DUI arrestees are read the Watson advisement.

In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the Watson advisement in Los Angeles DUI cases, including:

  • What is the Watson advisement?
  • When do officers give the Watson warning?
  • What happens if you acknowledge the advisement?
  • Can a DUI become a murder charge?
  • Fighting Watson advisement issues

Understanding the gravity of this advisement is critical for all California drivers. Let’s take a closer look.

What is the Watson Advisement?

The Watson advisement is a warning police officers are required to give all DUI suspects after arrest and before booking. The advisement makes clear that if the person continues to drive under the influence and kills someone, they can be charged with murder.

Specifically, the Watson advisement states (approximately):

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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.

This stern warning puts DUI suspects on notice that drunk driving can have deadly consequences. It underscores the seriousness of the offense.

When Do Officers Give the Watson Warning?

Per California law, police officers are required to read the Watson advisement verbatim to all individuals placed under arrest for DUI [1]. This occurs after the arrest but before transport to the police station for booking.

Typically, the officer will have the suspect parked on the side of the road, handcuffed in the back of the patrol car. The officer then reads the Watson advisement from a printed card to ensure the exact legally mandated language is stated.

Giving this warning after arrest but before booking is critical. It means the person is being told about the gravity of DUI and potential for murder charges before they are released back onto the streets after booking.

What Happens If You Acknowledge the Advisement?

After reading the Watson advisement, the officer will have the DUI suspect confirm that they understand the warning. Typically, the officer will ask “Do you understand?” and require a “Yes” reply.

Acknowledging that you understand the advisement can have huge implications if you cause a fatal DUI collision in the future. That prior knowledge of the dangers of drunk driving establishes “implied malice,” which is necessary for a murder charge.

So by saying you understand the Watson advisement, you are essentially admitting that you comprehend the life-threatening risks of driving drunk. This creates major liability down the road if a death results.

Can a DUI Become a Murder Charge?

Yes, it is possible for a California DUI to be elevated to a murder or manslaughter charge if the drunk driving leads to a fatality. This happens under the “implied malice murder” theory stemming from the Watson court decision.

The key points establishing implied malice murder after a DUI fatality are:

  • The driver had a previous DUI arrest and received a Watson advisement
  • The driver acknowledged understanding the Watson warning about the dangers of DUI
  • The driver killed someone while driving drunk again

This prior Watson advisement establishes awareness of the life-threatening risks of drunk driving. Going ahead and driving drunk again anyway shows a conscious disregard for human life—the “implied malice.”

In practice, prosecutors are most likely to charge Watson murder if the driver has multiple prior DUI convictions and a particularly egregious crash. But a first-time DUI arrestee could theoretically face murder charges as well if they received and acknowledged the Watson advisement.

Fighting Watson Advisement Issues

Given the gravity of the Watson advisement and how it can transform a DUI into a murder case if someone is killed, any problems with how the warning is handled can be major issues.

If you are arrested for DUI in California, some key ways to protect yourself include:

  • Confirm the officer gives the full Watson advisement verbatim
  • Do NOT acknowledge that you understand if you actually don’t
  • Contact an attorney if you have questions or concerns
  • Follow up for clarification if the advisement is unclear

An experienced DUI defense lawyer can also help by:

  • Raising issues with advisement procedures during your criminal case
  • Filing a motion to suppress any acknowledgement of understanding
  • Negotiating with prosecutors if you later face charges for a DUI fatality
  • Challenging an improper Watson advisement at trial

Any chinks in the Watson armor could prevent a DUI from being elevated to murder. Don’t let mistakes go unaddressed.

Speak with a Los Angeles DUI Attorney

The Watson advisement is a heavy warning all California DUI suspects must receive. While meant to deter drunk driving, it can also have lasting consequences if a fatal crash occurs down the road. Don’t take the advisement lightly or just say you understand without really comprehending the gravity.

If you have concerns about receiving the Watson advisement during a Los Angeles DUI arrest, contact an experienced drunk driving defense lawyer right away. They can help safeguard your rights and avoid future liability. Don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to this critical DUI warning.

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