Driving Under the Influence

SECOND-DEGREE MURDER DUI (WATSON MURDER)

There is a legal theory that when a person commits an act with "depraved indifference" to human life, and that act results in the death of another person, it is Second Degree Murder even though the actor has no actual intent to kill the dead person. The classic example taught in law school is shooting into a crowded room, wherein a person is hit and dies. Even though the shooter had no intent to shoot the person killed, and may not have even known the person or of that particular person‘s presence, the "natural and probable consequences" of the shooting was the death of another person.

The California courts have extended this concept to DUI‘s, if the DUI driver is involved in an accident and kills another person while driving under the influence. The deceased may even be a passenger in the driver‘s own vehicle. This offense carries a mandatory life sentence in state prison.

Historically, the courts have required the DUI driver to have specific knowledge of the dangerous nature of the act of Driving Under the Influence. This has typically occurred wherein the driver has a prior DUI conviction, and there is proof of the driver‘s attendance at the alcohol education programs that is a mandatory requirement of a DUI sentence. There is a new law that is expected to go into effect in 2008 that eliminates this requirement that there be proof that the driver previously attended an alcohol education program - we will have to wait and see the law as actually enacted.

I personally disagree with this concept that these situations are Murder, despite the dangers that DUI‘s pose. Persons who drive while under the influence bear no ill will and intend no harm to other people. By trying to drive, they are simply making a mistake in judgment. This occurs after their judgment has been clouded by the very substance of which they are under the influence. They are often suffering from the effects of alcoholism, which we know today is often the result of genetics and/or factors in their environment. They need help. They don‘t need to be put in prison for the rest of their lives. Extending Murder to cover these situations is an absurd emotional and political maneuver.

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