By W. Clay Abbott
TDCAA DWI Resource Prosecutor in Austin
Well, we are finally selecting misdemeanor jury panels and working through the really serious felony offenses where the defendant is in jail. We’re back in the courtroom, and DWI trials are back on!
The title of this column may sound very familiar. All of us are a little rusty at picking juries and trying cases, and some of us are new enough in our jobs that we don’t have a lot of trial experience under our belts yet. So, for both new prosecutors and the old dogs remembering old tricks, I want to tell everyone about some DWI trial help coming your way.
Prosecuting DWI course
First, TDCAA will present a new course called Prosecuting DWI in five cities this summer:
• June 8 in Rockwall,
• June 10 in New Braunfels and Tyler, and
• June 17 in Richmond and Lubbock.
The training starts with a lesson on finding the trial’s theme, motivation, and sincerity. Then it moves on to the very special issues in jury selection for the impaired driving case. We will then explore defending SFSTs and at the same time using them offensively for a change. Finally, we will discuss the most common suppression issues in DWI cases.
Prosecuting DWI is designed to follow up TDCAA’s Prosecutor Trial Skills Course (PTSC), which is geared toward prosecutors with less than 18 months of experience. Prosecuting DWI will go deeper than PTSC, which covers every part of the job and every kind of case. If you are new to the profession and have not yet attended our Prosecutor Trial Skills Course, you should still attend Prosecuting DWI—my guess is that trying DWIs is probably on your plate, and you’ll need the information we present. I would also recommend it to experienced and even very experienced prosecutors. DWI cases and impaired driving cases always pop up, and this short course will be the perfect refresher. In addition, the format of this class is very discussion-oriented, and we could use your experience.
Other reasons to attend: The course is free. It will be available in most areas of the state. Attendees will receive free books. You need to be there! Registration is already open at www.tdcaa.com/ training.
Register quickly, too—space in each city is limited, so when we run out of seats, registration will close.
Thanks to our DWI Resource Prosecutor Grant through the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), you have recently received a few books in the mail. Late last year we mailed out Diane Beckham’s excellent update of Traffic Stops. It is a simple guide to suppression issues arising from a traffic stop, which covers almost all DWIs. It is designed for both prosecutors and officers, so if you know an inexperienced officer who is about to testify in one of your cases, lend this book to him or her. If you happen to have an extra copy from our PTSC course or a regional DWI school, just go ahead and give the officer the book.
In the last couple months, every prosecutor office received two small-format books by John Kwasnoski, longtime friend of TDCAA and Professor Emeritus of Forensic Physics at Western New England University. They are called Preparing Your Crash Case for Trial and Courtroom Success. They supplement Chapter Two of TDCAA’s Intoxication Manslaughter book, and they too are made for prosecutors and officers. Most Texas prosecutors use well-trained officers as crash reconstruction experts, so we wanted to make sure these excellent resources are available for prosecutors preparing witnesses for this most difficult testimony. I once heard a speaker at a national prosecutor training declare, “DNA is the single most difficult thing to present to a jury.” I silently scoffed and immediately muttered to the person next to me, “Guess he never presented crash reconstruction.” There is no more difficult science or testimony to present to a jury. These short and direct little books help. Please find them and use them.
The last publication you received was TDCAA’s Warrants Manual. With nearly every jurisdiction in the state obtaining search warrants for blood in intoxication cases, this book is essential. TDCAA does not mandate or even recommend a particular warrant, but the book helps you review your local templates, procedures, training, and instruction. It is another great resource, and it would be a shame if you never took it out of the box or off the shelf.
TDCAA.com’s DWI Resources
Finally, please keep an eye on the DWI Resources page at TDCAA.com/resources/dwi. Jessica Frazier, an ACDA in Comal County, revises the DWI Caselaw Update twice a year, and we are constantly adding other resources to the page. One new item I am very happy to have on the site is a continually updated list of every drug recognition expert (DRE) in Texas. Thanks to the new Texas DRE State Coordinator, Carlos Champion, it is now much easier for prosecutors to find a DRE when they need one.
Also on the DWI Resources page are hours and hours of training videos. If you have not found them yet, go hunt down two 20-minute videos of the best impaired driving prosecutors in Texas selecting a jury for a DWI case; they’re called “Jury Selection in DWI Prosecution” and “Special Issues in Jury Selection in DWI Prosecution.” If you have been picking DWI juries, I promise your skills will improve if you watch these videos and implement their advice.
Trying DWI cases is not easy: There are no “lay down” DWI cases, and many jurors have committed this offense—or their friends and family have. My hope is to put help at prosecutors’ fingertips when they deal with this most difficult task. You just have to take the help.
I hope to see lots of you in June!