In my criminal defense practice, I have always emphasized the area of Driving Under the Influence (DUI or DWI) Defense. With the convergence of science and criminal law, DUI defense has become one of the most complex crimes to defend. I learned early on that continual training in the DUI area is needed to do a good job for your client.
In 2008, with encouragement of my good friend and National Expert, Robert LaPier, I took his Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Course. The actual name of the course is DWI Detection and Standardize Field Sobriety Testing.” Mr. LaPier teaches this class using the full NHTSA curriculum, just as it is taught to Law Enforcement Officers when they are trained. (It is my understanding that some other instructors do not follow the full curriculum in their teaching of the course).
One of the things I quickly learned is that the course is much more then just becoming qualified to administer the standardized field sobriety tests. This course is the complete training that law enforcement takes to detect, investigate, and determine whether to arrest, individuals for the crime of Driving Under the Influence (DUI). I learned the clues or indicators officers are supposed to look for when:
- They are following the car and deciding whether to pull them over – This is known as Phase one – Vehicle In Motion;
- They approach the driver for the first time and look for indications of intoxication – This is known as Phase Two – Personal Contact; and
- They administer the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST’s) – This is known as Phase Three – Pre-Arrest Screening.
In each of these areas or phases of investigation, there are specific things the law enforcement officer is supposed to do and look for in properly completing their investigation. Taking the same training that the officer took helps me know if the officer is doing his job properly.
This training has been extremely helpful in my DUI practice in evaluating the police reports and video to determine strength and weaknesses of my client’s case. It has helped me as I prepare for motions and trials and cross examination of the law enforcement officer. I have often been able to cross examine an officer using his own manual and pointing out when he did not follow the proper procedures in his investigation. Further, I have been able to use the knowledge I gained to point out the clues or indicators of impairment that are not present in my client’s case and use the absence of these indicators as indications that my client was not impaired.
Currently, today, I still meet with Mr. LaPier and practice my skills in administering the SFST’s and keeping current on changes in the curriculum. This training has been so valuable that in 2010 I took the SFST’s instructor’s course. So today, I am not only qualified to perform the SFST’s, but to teach the full “DWI Detection and Standardize Field Sobriety Testing.” Knowing what I know now, I encourage all DUI attorneys to take the full “DWI Detection and Standardize Field Sobriety Testing” course. Right now I am not aware of another attorney in East Idaho besides myself that has taken these courses.