In 1985, Dennis Jewel became the first person in San Bernardino County to be convicted of second-degree murder for deaths caused by driving under the influence. He was sentenced to a state prison term of 77 years under harsh California DUI laws.
Now, Jewell’s family is petitioning for his release through the California compassionate prisoner release program as a result of his terminal cancer diagnosis. Prosecutors plan to argue against Jewell’s discharge at a hearing later this month.
To understand how prosecutors were able to convict Jewell of second-degree murder for a DUI-related offense, it is critical to examine the California’s evolving DUI laws. The experienced DUI defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have the knowledge necessary to raise all possible defenses for a DUI charge.
People v. Watson
Prior to 1981, the majority of DUI-related deaths were charged as vehicular manslaughter offenses under California Penal Code section 192. This code section defines vehicular manslaughter as “driving a vehicle with ordinary negligence that results in the unlawful killing of a human being.” A felony vehicular manslaughter conviction is punishable by up to 6 years in state prison.
In 1981, the California State Supreme Court ruled in People v. Watson, 30 Cal. 3d 290, the defendant could be charged with second-degree murder under California Penal Code section 187 for killing a woman and her child while driving under the influence. The justices determined that the defendant’s reckless conduct constituted implied malice aforethought, a key element of a second-degree murder charge.
The prosecutor bears the burden of proving the following elements of a Watson Murder:
- You committed an intentional act (i.e. driving) that caused the death of another person;
- You acted with malice aforethought (likely “implied”); AND
- You intentionally committed an act;
- The natural and probable consequences of the act were dangerous to human life;
- You knew that your act was dangerous to human life when you acted; AND
- You deliberately acted with conscious disregard for human life.
- You lacked any lawful justification for the killing.
California’s Changing DUI Laws
California lawmakers began to crackdown on DUI offenses in the late 1970s. One of the first changes concerned the “rebuttable presumption” that an individual with a BAC of 0.10 percent was capable of operating a motor vehicle safely. During this time, defense attorneys won numerous cases by arguing that a client was capable of safely operating a vehicle despite his or her BAC of 0.10 percent.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge persuaded the California State Legislature in 1990 to adopt a conclusive presumption that an individual operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher is under the influence in violation of VC 23152(a) and VC 23152(b). The California State Legislature also mandated that DUI offenders risk losing their license on a first offense and may face felony charges for repeated offenses.
Recent statistics indicate that these legislative changes have been effective in preventing DUI-related deaths. In 1985, there were approximately 2,500 DUI-related deaths in California. In 2011, only 774 people died in California due to impaired driving accidents.
“California is at an all-time low for impaired driving deaths,” said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety. He also noted that only 30 percent of the state’s DUI offenders are repeat offenders.
Are California DUI Laws Too Harsh?
Many California defense lawyers, including Pasadena Attorney Richard Hutton, believe that the reduction in DUI-related deaths can be attributed to education and intervention programs rather than strict DUI laws. Hutton also explained that many of his DUI clients face longer sentences than armed robbers.
“The mental state in the armed robbery is so much worse than somebody that had a couple of drinks and hurt somebody in an accident,” Hutton said.
Another concern is the geographic disparity in DUI penalties based on geographical location. San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi stated that one defendant can face 45 days in jail while another might receive credit for time served on a nearly identical case.
“We shouldn’t have a system where what happens to you is dependent on where you’re arrested,” said Adachi.
What Wallin & Klarich Can Do for You
The experienced attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been successfully defending clients accused of a DUI for over 30 years. Due to our decades of experience, we understand California DUI laws and can help you raise any legal defense to an accusation of a DUI. We will aggressively defend you from the first day you retain our office to help you stay out of jail. If you are accused of a DUI, there is too much at stake to entrust your legal representation to anyone other than an experienced Wallin & Klarich DUI defense attorney.
Our offices are located in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina, Victorville, Torrance and Sherman Oaks. Give us a call today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245. We will be there when you call.