One place I didn’t envision returning to was law school, but The Century Council gave me a chance to do just that through its partnership with Suffolk University Law School in Boston, MA. The program is a week-long course and is the first-of-its-kind. It was a real treat to observe law students in their second and third years of study learn about the most complex cases they will ever have to try – DWIs (or as they call them up in Massachusetts – OUIs).
Most prosecutors who handle DWI/OUI cases are fresh out of law school and are facing a skilled defense attorney. That’s why The Century Council teamed up with Suffolk Law School. The program aims to better educate future lawyers on the complexities of DWI/OUI cases. The students examined witnesses and conducted closing arguments in mock impaired driving trials that were presided over by sitting and retired judges and a leading prosecutor.
The course covered practical aspects of handling OUI cases from the traffic stop to trial, then to sentencing and supervision. Students also learned about the Computerized Assessment and Referral System (CARS) being developed by the Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. This tool will be used with convicted drunk driving offenders to quickly screen for underlying mental health disorders and will make it easier to diagnose alcohol and/or drug abuse and assist with the development of a treatment plan for each offender.
As I learned along with the students, I was struck by the differences in Massachusetts law and procedure regarding impaired driving cases as compared to those of other states with which I have some familiarity. There are some differences from my own Texas law, including admissibility of evidence, horizontal gaze nystagmus and refusal to perform BAC tests, jury selection and argument practices, terms and lengths of sentences and sobriety checkpoints. In spite of those differences, there are far more similarities in adjudicating drunk driving cases, it appeared.
I was honored to be able to observe these talented and bright lawyers of the future, and to work with The Century Council and Suffolk University as they prepare to expand the course to law students nationwide.
Judge Mark Atkinson
The Century Council Judicial Education Advisory Board Member
Texas Center for the Judiciary
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Century Council or any Century Council member.*