W. Clay Abbott
During the Prosecutor Trial Skills Course (affectionately known as Baby School—well, affectionately to everyone but the attendees) and the Advanced Trial Advocacy Course where we used a drugged driving death case as our example, I heard many students say they struggle with jury selection. While the instruction on jury selection at both schools was superb, this complaint was not new to us. TDCAA’s training evaluations and course evaluations make it clear that prosecutors feel like they could use a hand on voir dire. This need is understandable, as most seasoned trial attorneys admit that most cases are won and lost in jury selection—which is absolutely true in DWI and intoxication crash cases.
So what is a poor DWI Resource Prosecutor—me—to do? I’m glad you asked! We are trying something new.
Training on jury selection
First, next year’s video training (a continuing Texas Department of Transportation [TxDOT] grant project) will take on jury selection as its subject. About a year from now, check our website for two 20-minute videos on voir dire.
In the meantime, we will offer regional DWI training under the TxDOT grant specifically on jury selection. This is new for us, and we are excited!
Since 2004, TDCAA has engaged in what started as a radical concept: training prosecutors and officers on DWI issues in the same classroom at the same time. There were many prophets of doom, mostly out of state, who assured me our endeavor would fail miserably. It did not. In fact, that model is now copied across the country. The limitation of it has always been that prosecutor-specific topics, such as jury selection, got the short straw. No more!
The regional DWI training for 2018–’19 will have two major parts. The first is a three-city, simultaneous, prosecutor-only program on December 7, 2018, in Richmond, Rockwall, and San Antonio. (Mark your calendars and watch the TDCAA website, www.tdcaa.com, for online registration. See the flyer below for details.) We recognize that jury selection in DWI and impaired-driving crash cases is not easy. In very few trials will most members of your panel have committed the charged offense or underlying offense. Even if they don’t have that experience, there is a good bet that a friend or family member has, and they’ll likely speak up about how close to home this offense hits. (Let’s face it: You may have a child molester on the panel in an indecency case, but he will certainly not be telling the rest of the jury about it.) All prosecutors who have tried DWI cases have a story about the great case they lost. Invariably, the blame falls on jury selection. Interviewing 30 to 100 people for a thankless, low-paying job with serious consequences in ridiculously limited time periods is probably the hardest thing prosecutors do. The goal of this program is not that a couple speakers turn every attendee into a great advocate. No pumpkins will be turned into carriages either. Instead, attendees will hear some new ideas, methods, strategies, questions, examples, and tactics.
A word of warning: If you are hoping that we’ll tell you the profile of the perfect DWI juror, you will be disappointed. This course isn’t about swapping one canned voir dire for another—rather, it is about getting your panel talking and learning to listen to jurors’ answers. If picking your jury from their juror information sheets is your current strategy, this class is essential for you!
This one-day, three-city training will be a great launching point for the upcoming video project, too. I encourage both new and experienced prosecutors to attend. My hope is the program will be equal parts legal training, modeling actual jury selection, and open discussion among a wide range of prosecutors on strategy, questioning tactics, and style. Please consider joining us on December 7 in the city closest to you.
More officer-prosecutor training
The second part is continued local training using the courses we presented across the state in 2017 and 2018. We will continue to offer both Effective Courtroom Testimony and Rolling Stoned: Investigating and Prosecuting the Drugged Driver, but we will pick only 15 to 20 cities in 2018 and 2019 for these programs. No areas in DWI seem to be as difficult as effectively presenting evidence of alcohol and drugs or just drugs. Both of these schools provide a great opportunity for prosecutors and officers to work together in their own region of the state. Despite the early naysayers, this collaborative learning remains one of the best things about TDCAA’s regional DWI training.
Applications for the local police-prosecutor programs are on our website now (you must apply for me to travel to your jurisdiction to train on these topics). You can also find me or Kaylene Braden at the Annual, as we will have applications in hand (or at least on a nearby clipboard). Applications must be in by October 13 to be considered. In 2020, we will probably drop both curricula for a while, so get in while it lasts.
A last word
The good news about both the three-city jury selection training and the regional programs for police and prosecutors is that they are local and free. The bad news about the jury selection training is that we can go only to Richmond, Rockwall, and San Antonio, and we cannot reimburse attendees for travel. But did I mention there is no registration fee? And that all of these programs are single-day schools? Sounds like perfect road trip potential to me.