Prior to 1981, people who caused fatal accidents because they were driving while intoxicated faced charges of vehicular manslaughter. On Nov. 30, 1981, the Supreme Court of California handed down its ruling in People v. Watson, a case that changed the law regarding people who cause fatalities when they are driving while impaired.
The People v. Watson case
In People v. Watson, the defendant was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter. He reportedly left a bar after drinking and collided with a car in an intersection, killing the driver and a six-year-old girl. His blood alcohol content measured .23 percent when he was tested 30 minutes after the accident happened. He filed a pretrial appeal concerning the second-degree murder counts based on the argument that his actions didn’t constitute implied malice as is required under the second-degree murder statute. The court disagreed, saying there were sufficient facts for the prosecution to use in order to try to establish he acted with implied malice. Since that decision, people in California who kill others while driving intoxicated have been allowed to be charged with second-degree murder. If a person is convicted as charged, he or she will face a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
The Neil Stephany case
On Oct. 19, 2014, a man by the name of Neil Stephany was driving on East Coast Highway after reportedly using heroin. In Newport Beach, he swerved into a bicycle lane, fatally striking Shaun Eagleson, a 30-year-old bicyclist. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office said that Mr. Stephany left the scene of the accident and didn’t provide any help to Mr. Eagleson. Law enforcement officers caught Mr. Stephany a little after the accident. He tested positive for heroin after submitting to a blood test and was charged with second-degree murder. Mr. Stephany was convicted of the offense on Oct. 26, 2015, following a jury trial. On Jan. 18, 2016, he was sentenced to serve 15 years to life in a California state prison. Although he will be eligible to apply for parole at a later time, there is no guarantee it will be granted to him.
Why getting an attorney is important when you are charged with a felony DUI
When you are facing a felony DUI charge, it is very important that you seek representation from a criminal defense lawyer who has significant experience defending against such charges. If you choose a criminal defense lawyer who has only dabbled in defending against such cases, he or she may not be able to handle all of the different issues a felony driving under the influence charge can bring. If you are convicted as charged for second-degree murder, you will face 15 years to life in prison. The obvious importance of retaining a lawyer who has the skill and experience with investigating cases, analyzing scientific evidence and vigorously challenging the state’s case cannot be emphasized enough.
Scott D. Henry is the leading DUI defense attorney in Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County, California. He has the level of experience and skill you need when you are facing such serious felony charges for driving under the influence. He is also able to help people with misdemeanor drunk driving charges as well. No matter the level of the charges you are facing, our law firm is well-equipped to help. Give us a call today to schedule your consultation and to learn more about your rights and how we might be able to help.