Until a few years ago, attorneys attempting to defend a client against drunk driving charges were general practitioners who had little, if any, understanding of the nature of the offense. They were unfamiliar with such DUI investigatory methods as field sobriety tests, and there was an almost complete lack of seminars on how to defend these clients.
Most importantly, defense lawyers were completely ignorant about the complexities of blood alcohol analysis — whether of blood, breath or urine samples. How does this "breathalyzer" work? What is "infrared analysis"? "Gas chromatography"? How is alcohol metabolized in the human body? What is "Widmark’s formula"? "Hematocrit"? What is "retrograde extrapolation" and how does that work? What physiological variables occur between individuals? What medical conditions can effect a breath reading and how? What happens if blood samples ferment or coagulate?
Chemical analysis of blood, breath or urine involved knowledge of such highly technical fields as physiology, organic chemistry, physics, biophysics, electrical engineering — subjects far beyond the experience and training of lawyers.
Then about 17 years ago, ten of the most prominent DUI defense attorneys in the country met in a hotel conference room near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Over the following three days they hammered out plans for a new professional organization: "The National College for DUI Defense". They created this as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of the DUI bar, primarily through providing educational seminars, and donated their own money for initial funding. An important secondary purpose of the organization was to address the problem of insularity in the profession — the isolation of lawyers; the College would be a tool with which attorneys across the country could share information, ideas and experiences.
I am proud to say that I was one of those ten founders, and have since served as Dean and on its Board of Regents. For each of us, the College was a true labor of love.
The first national seminar was held at Harvard Law School. It was an intense 3-day series of lectures, demonstrations and workshops, featuring a faculty of the top lawyers, scientists and forensic toxicologists in the field.
The experiment was a huge success, and has been repeated every July at Harvard for the past 16 years. In fact, the College’s governing Board of Regents soon expanded this educational effort by creating a second 3-day annual seminar in the winter. This proved another resounding success: in the recent session held in Las Vegas, there were over 500 lawyers attending from all over the country. Other annual seminars, one focusing on blood-alcohol science exclusively, soon followed.
The National College for DUI Defense also created an internet website, along with an email discussion group where attorneys could share information and ideas. There are currently hundreds of members across the country using this forum — and discovering, for example. that what one lawyer in Texas has found effective in dealing with the effects of diabetes on breath tests can be helpful to another in Oregon.
Having provided the means to develop greater skills in this demanding field, the College next addressed the need to recognize those lawyers who had achieved the highest levels of competence. Within recent years, they began certifying attorneys as specialists in DUI defense. In order to be Board-certified, an applicant must satisfy demanding requirements of practice and trial experience, as well as pass intensive written and oral examinations.
Most recently, the College has been successful in applying to the American Bar Association for recognition of a new legal specialty: DUI defense. After considerable study, the ABA went further and recognized the National College for DUI Defense as the sole organization authorized to certify attorneys as specialists in this new field.
Today, with headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama, the College has a membership of over 1200 attorneys across the country. It continues to sponsor or c0-sponsor numerous national seminars annually, including the original seminar at Harvard Law School; maintain an extensive online library of legal and scientific literature related to drunk driving litigation; contribute funds and support to Supreme Court appeals involving important DUI-related legal and constitutional issues; supervise demanding ABA-approved oral and written exams of attorneys applying for certification as DUI specialists; and provide a busy online discussion forum for its 1200+ members and selected blood-alcohol scientists to share ideas, problems and solutions.
The result: if you are some day accused of this demonized offense, you are more likely to have an attorney who understands the very complex legal and scientific issues involved — in other words, you are more likely to realize your constitutional right to competent counsel and due process.