Motion to Dismiss Murder Charge against Man Involved in Fatal Car Accident Denied by Judge Despite Strong Defense Argument

By Anna Olsen

BERKELEY, CA – Berkeley resident Maury Butler, facing charges of second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated after allegedly striking and killing 19-year-old Jesaun Benson with his car, lost a bid to have the murder charge dismissed here this week in Alameda County Superior Court.

A “995 motion” filed by the defense to eliminate the murder charge was denied. A Penal Code section 995 motion is a motion filed by the defense after a preliminary hearing and before trial requesting the dismissal of a felony charge.

Benson was standing outside of his vehicle on Aug. 12, 2018, at 2:25 a.m. on Interstate 880 in Oakland after he was involved in a separate two-car accident. Butler, claims the prosecution, ran into Benson with his car while Benson stood outside his vehicle, killing him.

Butler’s blood alcohol content at the time of the incident was reported as 0.14 percent, nearly twice the legal limit. He had been drinking at a concert prior to the accident, the prosecution said.

According to an article published by the East Bay Times in 2018, Butler had been convicted of a DUI three times before the accident occurred, had signed waiver forms acknowledging the dangers of drinking and driving, and was driving with a suspended license at the time of the accident.

During the hearing discussing the motion, the defense cited past fatal DUI cases to attempt to prove that Butler held no “implied malice” during the accident and that the murder charge filed against him should be dismissed.

The defense noted the 1981 case of People vs. Watson, in which it was held that an individual responsible for a death while driving under the influence can be charged with second-degree murder if the driver acted with “implied malice.”

In order to prove that an individual acted with “implied malice” and convict them of murder, four things must be true.

These four things are “the defendant intentionally committed the act, the probable consequences of the act were dangerous to human life, at the time of the incident the defendant was aware of the dangers the act posed towards human life, and the defendant deliberately acted with “conscious disregard for human life.”

As the defense counsel laid out in his argument, four factors were considered and true in each previous fatal DUI case where the defendants were proven to act with “conscious disregard for human life” and therefore “implied malice”—high blood alcohol content, a pre-drinking intent to drive, knowledge of the hazard of drinking and driving, and highly dangerous driving.

The defense argued that in each seminal case where malice was proven, the BAC of the defendant was much higher than the reported BAC of Butler at the time of the incident.

“People who drive with a higher level of alcohol in their system,” said the defense, can more reasonably be charged with intentionally committing an act without consciousness or regard for human life.”

The defense argued that there is not as much certainty regarding Butler’s pre-drinking intent to drive as there was in the past cases. The other defendants were leaving bars, which are evident drinking establishments.

Additionally, the defense insisted that Butler was not fully educated on the hazards associated with drinking and driving.

In contrast with the cited seminal cases, the defense maintained, “In our case, no one told him ‘Hey, Mr. Butler, you are too drunk to drive.’ There is no evidence that he was too drunk to drive. There is no evidence that anyone warned him that he could kill somebody.

“Mr. Butler on the scene was said to be emotional and distraught after hearing that he had been in an accident where someone had been killed. That by itself tells me that he is someone who cares,” said the defense, adding that there is no evidence proving Butler engaged in “highly dangerous driving” at the time of the incident.

A witness who was driving next to Butler at the time of the incident stated that Butler was driving the speed limit and maintaining his lane when they each approached the vehicles. According to the officer who arrived on scene, all lights for both stopped cars were turned off.

The witness stated that a truck “suddenly and aggressively cut into the lanes of traffic, obscuring Mr. Butler’s line of sight,” making it impossible for Butler to stop fast enough once the vehicles were visible to him.

The actions of the victim were addressed by the defense, who added in his argument that “instead of moving to the side of the highway as one reasonably would do after getting into an accident, these persons remained in the lanes of traffic.”

“And that is the essence of the case here, your Honor. Mr. Butler was driving as safe as possible,” said the defense.

Judge Thomas Reardon expressed apprehension with this argument, pointing out that he would have to look at the cases cited by the defense—trial cases proving a standard beyond a reasonable doubt—different from the Butler case, which was decided under the probable cause standard for a preliminary hearing.

The prosecution presented his opinion to the court, arguing against the dismissal of the murder charge, noting Butler’s previous DUI convictions, his suspended license, his placement on criminal probation and the fact that he had been warned four times by the state of CA regarding the risks of drinking and driving.

“The tragic events of that night were the inevitable conclusion of the pattern of this defendant electing to drink and drive,” said the deputy district attorney, adding that other drivers on the road at the time of the incident were able to avoid hitting the cars.

“We are all expected to be able to avoid such conditions of the roadway late at night—it is the impairment that alcohol causes that limits our ability to do so that is the risk Mr. Butler was repeatedly admonished,” argued the DDA.

The motion to dismiss the murder charge was denied.

The jury trial will begin next Tuesday, Feb. 22.

About The Author

Anna Olsen is a recent UC Berkeley graduate originally from Seattle, WA. She double majored in law and global studies and plans to head to law school after taking a gap year to become a juvenile defense attorney.

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