Clinic Student Celebrates Difficult Court Victory
A University of New Hampshire School of Law student is celebrating an extremely difficult court victory, thanks to the school’s Criminal Practice Clinic.
Emily Laflamme, a third-year student who is taking part in the clinic, was assigned this semester to a client charged with aggravated DWI, or driving with a blood-alcohol level of nearly three times the legal limit.
After meeting with her client, Laflamme knew she wanted to help the woman, who had no prior criminal history and had “made a big mistake,” Laflamme says. “She was pregnant and had a bad home-life situation; she had physical and mental issues.”
When Laflamme and Professor Charles Temple, the clinic director, first began to examine the facts in the case, they weren’t very hopeful.
“DWI-type cases, especially aggravated cases, are probably the most difficult to try in a successful manner,” Temple says. “They’re just profoundly difficult to win because of the allegations against your client.”
Because of that, Temple says, many of these cases result in plea deals rather than trials. In this case, one detail in the report by the two arresting officers stuck out: the statement “I continued the booking process during the observation period.” In New Hampshire, Temple says, officers are required to conduct a 20-minute observation period on DWI suspects before administering a Breathalyzer.
The language in the report made Temple wonder whether the procedure had been followed correctly, and after researching the statute and regulation, Laflamme found that it hadn’t: Officers are required to closely observe the alleged drunk driver for 20 minutes before they administer the test to ensure that the person doesn’t compromise the test by burping, belching, vomiting or inserting foreign items in his or her mouth. According to the report, the officers had photographed and fingerprinted the woman and conducted a full interview during that time.
“Our strategy for the cross-examinations was to have Emily lay in the bushes and have the officers think, ‘What the heck are these people doing?’” Temple says. “It was a risky strategy, but it wasn’t, because we had absolutely nothing else to go on in that case.”
Laflamme, who is also a student in UNH Law’s Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program, spent upwards of 30 hours on the case: researching, working on the trial strategy and preparing the cross-examinations, practicing and drafting a motion to dismiss argument.
“She did everything from, really, the beginning to the end in this case,” says Temple.
When Laflamme began to cross-examine the first police officer, she says, he didn’t realize the approach she was taking. His answers confirmed the defense’s theory that the officers had misused the waiting period. The second officer seemed to realize Laflamme’s approach midway through her cross-examination, Temple says, but the damage had already been done: The judge dismissed the case, claiming that the integrity of the test had been compromised.
As for the trial, Laflamme says, it was “terrifying” but exhilarating. And the experience confirmed that she is ready to practice criminal law. “Now I have the confidence to know that I can definitely do it,” she says.
Temple agrees: “It is abundantly clear that Emily’s legal education, combined with both externship and clinical experiences, have produced a client-ready lawyer.”