A second degree murder charge for a California DUI resulting in a death is generally reserved for those who have suffered a prior DUI charge. Prosecutors are able to introduce both signed Watson advisements and the attendance of a DUI class to prove that the defendant acted with a “conscious disregard for human life,” otherwise known as implied malice. Recall that when people are charged with a California DUI, they are ordered to sign a “Watson advisement” acknowledging that they understand that they can kill someone if they drink and drive again, and that they can be charged with murder if they do, in fact, kill someone while driving drunk.
So how did a Long Beach man get charged with Watson murder without any priors?
Raymond Burley, 26, was driving home from a work-sponsored party in 2012 when he allegedly blacked out behind the wheel. The work party served alcohol and later blood tests determined that Burley’s blood alcohol content was 0.11 and 0.12. At about 2 a.m. on December 9th, 2012, Burley swerved off the 405 freeway in Long Beach and struck and killed Faapuna Manu, a tow-truck driver who had stopped to help a stranded motorist.
Initially, Burley had been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence causing injury, and driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher causing injury. According to the Press-Telegram, Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney Emily Baker, who is prosecuting the case, enhanced the charges to second degree murder. Burley, an ambulance driver and emergency technician, had indicated on his application for a California commercial driver’s license that he knew it was dangerous to drive drunk, and if someone was killed, he could be charged with murder.
It makes me wonder whether, at some point, the California DMV will begin putting the Watson advisement on every driver application so that a prior DUI is not required for a prosecutor to charge murder in California DUIs resulting in a death. As if we didn’t know driving drunk could kill someone already. Or is a signature just a formality? What other signature-required documents could the government insert a Watson advisement to sidestep the implied malice requirement? I’m sure we’ll soon see.
If facing a 15 to life sentence wasn’t enough for Burley, both he and his employer, Ambuserve are being sued for the wrongful death of Faapuna Manu in Los Angeles County.