Gaining Confidence in New DWI, Domestic Violence Course

Hope Eckert and Les Romaine
Professor Hope Eckert (`00) assists Les Romaine (`11).

With one year to go before they headed off on their legal careers, Jerry Archuleta (`11) and Les Romaine (`11) were looking for even more real-world experience than they already had received in clinic and other law-school classes.

They found it in DWI and Domestic Violence Prosecution in Practice, which debuted in the fall 2010 semester. Through the course, conceived and taught by Research Professor Hope Eckert (`00), students were assigned actual cases from Bernalillo County's Metropolitan Court and Sandoval County Magistrate Court. The cases all involved misdemeanor domestic violence and DWI incidents. In Metro Court, all cases were tried before Chief Judge Judith Nakamura (`89), who liked the class concept so much, she wanted to be involved firsthand.

Under Eckert's supervision, the eight students in the upper-level course were responsible for all aspects of their caseload, including attending hearings on short notice. They sat in on defense attorney interviews with police officers, listened to Motor Vehicle Division tapes, obtained jail records and evaluated the jury pool before choosing a jury. They worked through fall break and a few students worked through the holiday break to prepare for two January trials.

In addition to making a total of 86 court appearances related to the 44 cases assigned to them, the students sat in on drug court, attended a Halloween DWI roadblock and enjoyed a number of guest lectures, including one on sentencing philosophy by Metro Court Judge Sharon Walton (`87).

"My idea was to provide a comprehensive experience that would help students become thoughtful, ethical, competent attorneys," said Eckert."

The experience inspired Romaine, who now wants to work for the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office.

"It was a good opportunity to handle a case from start to finish and be able to see what really happens in the process," he said. "Going in, DWI prosecution seemed so simple, but I learned there are a lot of steps to take to be sure to get a conviction. It was rewarding to get a conviction on people who have an alcohol problem and need intervention."

The upper-level class was rewarding for Archuleta, who was a Santa Fe police officer prior to law school. Having understood the realities of DWI as a police officer, he appreciated the perspective he gained from the class experience.

With plans to be a trial lawyer, he also appreciated the opportunity to prosecute real-world cases and Eckert's approach to guiding the students.

"She broke down everything step by step and she let us test our own limits," he said. "Now I know even more about DWI prosecution than when I was a police officer, and I know how to think outside the box."

In addition to Archuleta and Romaine, the students in the class were: Greg Baca (`11), Matthew Chavez (`12), Rico Frias (`11), Jasmine McGee (`11), John Rysanek (`11) and Nick Rimmer (`11).

The students operated out of a "mini-law office" set up in the school's Mountain Wing. Emilia Vigil served as the program assistant. The class will be offered again in the spring 2011 semester, and during the following summer students from both sessions will receive advanced credit to work on cases.

Eckert was excited to see the confidence and competence grow in the students through the semester.

"With this course, they were involved in all the moving parts of a case," she said. "They worked very hard and I think they were ethical in their decisions."

The course is being funded for 16 months by a state grant as part of an initiative to strengthen New Mexico's campaign to reduce DWI and domestic violence incidents.

December 22, 2010