SEATTLE — Dwight Benson left a King County courtroom in handcuffs Wednesday after being found guilty of a felony charge for driving under the influence (DUI).
The conviction comes among 17 total DUI-related charges for the 75-year-old man, who hasn't held a valid driver's license since 1999. Over the years, some of the offenses have been downgraded to lesser charges, such as reckless driving or driving without an interlock device.
“I can’t fathom, in reason, I could convince myself or even try to convince myself that at this point Mr. Benson has changed his stripes and will no longer consume alcohol, get impaired and drive behind the wheel of a car,” said King County Superior Judge David Steiner, who presided over the case.
In court, a public defender argued the Vietnam-era combat veteran wasn’t himself in April of 2019 when he crashed into an oncoming vehicle overnight. Benson and the other driver were both able to walk away from the crash.
Benson's defense team argued a fear of police led to their client's odd behavior in the moments after that accident.
“Think about the numerous occasions we now know of where a Black man is stopped at a traffic stop and we all know things can go horribly wrong,” said Miranda Marumann, the public defender representing Benson.
The state described Benson as a “habitual traffic offender” and called him “incredibly dangerous to the community.”
“Despite having a prior felony DUI that resolved a few years earlier, despite how easy it would have been to call a taxi, to call a Lyft, to call an Uber, to take the bus or even call a friend to pick him up, he chose to drive,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steve Anderson.
The judge denied Benson's request to report to jail on his own and instead set his bail at $300,000.
Benson's sentencing is expected to happen next week. He faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars.
A spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving called Benson's repeat offenses a failure of the system. The organization said the goal of prosecution should be to stop the behavior from happening again and clearly, in Benson's case, that did not happen.