The California Supreme Court recently upheld the murder conviction of a man accused and convicted of DWI in that state. The controversial call comes after a California court years ago ruled that person must intend to kill someone to be convicted of murder. Now this man will spend 81 years to life behind bars for murder.
As the criminal justice system continues to come under scrutiny, actions like this are likely to raise eyebrows over what limits should be placed on prosecutors willing to stretch statutes to issue creative criminal charges. Murder charges, historically, can only be charged and sustained when a person intends to kill another. There are lesser charges of homicide, manslaughter for example, and vehicular manslaughter as another. But what gets charged in a case is always in the discretion of a prosecutor, and in this case, the prosecutor sought murder charges.
This case began in 2011 when the accused was in a car accident that killed two people. After the accident the man left the scene, but later came back to where the accident happened. Of course what happened here was tragic for everyone involved, and in the aftermath, the prosecutor decided to not only charge the man with DWI, but with murder as well.
This was a novel case under a relatively new system in California of making DWI convicts sign a Watson pledge following a conviction. The pledge says in it that the person signing it knows that driving while intoxicated is dangerous and could result in the death of another. This is then used in subsequent DWI cases that result in death to impute intent to kill on the person with a prior conviction. Of course a person accused of a crime will do nearly anything to reduce charges or get special favor from the person in charge, including signing such a document.
While the intent of this program may be noble, there are several problems with it. In the first instance, testing levels of alcohol in a person is not an exact science and it is prone to errors. Think for a moment where a person with a past DWI conviction gets into a subsequent accident, is tested for alcohol, and wrongly deemed to have been drinking and driving. Now that person would be facing murder charges. Is that fair? Is that a level of potential mistake we are willing to tolerate in our society?
These questions and other troubling queries arise in situations such as these. It underscores why it is so important to understand the seriousness of a DWI charge, and why defending any charge is so important. After one DWI conviction, even in Texas, a driver faces steeper and more serious fines, jail time, and license suspensions.
Defending DWI charges is what we do at the Wilder DWI Defense Firm. If you or someone you love is charged with DWI in the Dallas area, contact us. We will go over your case with you and help you understand what your legal options and obligations are. No matter what your situation is, we can help you defend your rights.