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Here's an update on Suffolk University Law School's DWI adjudication course

You’ll recall from our blog earlier this year that Judge Atkinson went to Suffolk University Law School to observe students learning about adjudicating DWI cases. Shortly after the Judge’s visit, we announced the school is teaching law school students how to prosecute and adjudicate Operating Under the Influence (OUI - also commonly referred to as DWI) offenses through a first-of-its-kind intensive course we’re proud to support.

We’re now pleased to announce that Suffolk University Law School has taken a critical step in filling a void in legal education and moved forward with the development of a 14-week online OUI course. It is anticipated that this course will be available for licensing to law schools across the country in 2016.

The need for this type of specialized course has been identified by seasoned legal practitioners and educators alike. With approximately 1.3 million driving while impaired (DWI) arrests annually in the U.S. (FBI, 2013), most prosecutors are faced with the task of adjudicating this offense at one point or another in their career. Many individuals would be surprised to learn that the offense of DWI is one of the most complex criminal cases that can be tried within the justice system.

“A typical DWI case is more complex than most murder cases. While the murder case includes the ultimate tragedy - a death - that crime is generally proved by the most mundane methods. Conversely, DWI cases involve field testing, sophisticated testing equipment, and routinely demand experts on complicated issues in biology, medicine, pharmacology, mathematics, and computers,” said Washington State Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor (TSRP) Moses Garcia. 

He further adds that “legal, evidentiary, and procedural issues abound in DWI cases and change comes frequently based on court opinions and legislative enactments.”    

The inherently scientific nature of these cases in conjunction with an experienced and organized defense bar can be intimidating for new lawyers. Targeted education on this subject matter will better prepare and equip law school graduates to adjudicate DWI cases.

“This program gives students a great opportunity to delve into a specialized area that prosecutors commonly face in the courts,” said Suffolk Law Practitioner in Residence Mary Sawicki, a former career prosecutor.

The practical experience gained from participation in the DWI course will develop skills not only in this area of jurisprudence, but will also hone general trial skills that are transferrable to the prosecution of criminal cases broadly.

Suffolk has previously offered a classroom OUI course and made the decision to transition to an online curriculum to reach a broader audience.

An evaluation completed by students who participated in the week-long intensive OUI course offered in 2013 revealed that the majority felt better prepared to handle the adjudication of an OUI case following the end of the course. A majority of respondents also noted that they were very likely or extremely likely to use the information presented in the course and would recommend it to other law students.

Topics that will be covered in the online version include the science behind the absorption, distribution, and elimination of alcohol from the body, DWI traffic stops and standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs), as well as common evidentiary issues that arise in these cases. Students will have the opportunity to learn how to handle DWI discovery, conduct direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and draft opening and closing arguments.

An important aspect of this course is that law students will review model cases and participate in DWI mock trials as part of their learning experience. This practical knowledge will prepare students to be able to effectively handle DWI cases post-graduation.   

The course is designed to be offered over a semester and will include video commentary and resources from national experts in the impaired driving field. A goal of Suffolk is to create a product that engages students through a number of learning mediums that deviate from the traditional classroom lecture format.

Once all of the modules are finalized in 2015, experts in the field of legal education, prosecution, and other key stakeholders will be enlisted to review and provide feedback. The final product will be a course-in-a-box that can be tailored to individual jurisdictions and fit within any trial advocacy or prosecutor law school program.

Stay tuned for updates on this exciting project over the coming months!

For more information, contact Erin Holmes, Director of Traffic Safety and Technical Writer of Criminal Justice Programs: [email protected] / (202) 445-0334

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