Origins of The National College for DUI Defense



In the 1950s, publications about properly prosecuting DUIs began to emerge.  One of the first was written in 1950, by Robert L. Donigan, counsel for the Northwestern University Traffic Institute, entitled “Chemical Test Case Law.”  Then, in 1957, Mr. Donigan wrote “Chemical Tests and the Law,” as an update, which included all the case law on the admission of chemical test evidence and the various state statutes, which were then starting the movement towards the conviction of DUI with chemical tests only.  In 1959, the American Medical Association published a manual entitled “Chemical Tests for Intoxication,” where they discussed what they considered to be the state-of-the-art devices to convict people for DUI.  These included the Alcometer, the Alcotest, the Intoximeter, the Drunkometer, and the Breathalyzer.  In response, a defense attorney named Richard Erwin published, in 1963, a book entitled, “Defense of Drunk Driving Cases,” where he discussed these machines, showed how they may not be accurate, and relayed ideas on challenges to the new trend of guilt by machine.

In the 1980s, drunk driving was an offense commonly defended by the general practitioner, and whose understanding of the technical complexities were poorly understood, if at all. There existed no professional organizations dedicated to DUI defense, and the rare training seminar addressing the subject was local in nature and necessarily superficial. In most cases, it was “the blind leading the blind”, with the focus on legal issues and trial skills; there was little appreciation or comprehension of alcohol metabolism, breathalyzers, blood analysis, field sobriety tests, etc. 



This lack of focus and expertise began to change as MADD’s political and public relations activities and the resultant increase in penalties, technical advances and growing constitutional issues began to raise the stakes – the defense attorney was, in effect, without resources, expert witnesses or access to more experienced attorneys.  He was isolated.



The first major change occurred in 1983.  One of the pioneering attorneys in the field, Don Nichols of Minneapolis, was instrumental in convincing the American Bar Association to sponsor a national seminar devoted exclusively to drunk driving defense. The result was the “ABA First National Seminar on Defending the Drunk Driver”, held in Washington, D.C.  The presenters included Don Nichols, Larry Taylor and Reese Joye, as well as scientific experts in the fields of blood and breath-alcohol analysis and radio frequency interference.



The success of this seminar, and the clear need of defense attorneys across the country, resulted in a novel and ground-breaking series of seminars.  Nichols, Taylor, Joye and Erwin created a national tour, with themselves and three experts presenting one-day seminars in 15 major cities.  Overcoming daunting logistics, the team presented seminars in five cities in five days, Monday through Friday, then repeated the schedule a month later in five new cities.  The 15-city tour proved a resounding success.

The national seminar tour exposed the widespread need for information in this growing specialization, and triggered a flood of local seminars throughout the country.  In 1986, the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, through the efforts of Don Nichols, Flem Whited, and Doug Cowan, began the first in a series of national DUI seminars, which were held annually in Las Vegas.

Over the next ten years, the field of drunk driving litigation expanded exponentially, along with the need for further education and communication among practitioners. Although DUI seminars were now more prevalent, the practitioner was again on his own once the seminar ended.

This was about to change.

In 1994, William C. Head contacted Larry Taylor, Don Nichols and Reese Joye to discuss the idea of creating a national association of drunk driving defense attorneys. The four met twice in Atlanta to “brainstorm” the concept, and finally decided to contact the most-respected practitioners in the country. An agreement was reached to meet for a long weekend in Chicago with other prominent DUI defense attorneys from throughout the country.

The attorneys met at the at the Chicago O’Hare Hilton in August of 1994. Over the next two days of meetings in a hotel conference room, the attorneys hammered out the purposes and structure of the new organization – to be named “The National College for DUI Defense”. 

The original 10 founders at that round-table conference were:



William C. Head (Atlanta, GA)

Douglas Cowan (Seattle, WA)

Lawrence Taylor (Los Angeles, CA) 

John Henry Hingson (Portland, OR)

Reese Joye (Charleston, SC) 

Phil Price (Huntsville, AL)

James Farragher Campbell (San Francisco, CA)

Gary Trichter (Houston, TX)

Flem Whited (Daytona Beach, FL)

James Tarantino (Providence, RI) (attended via telephone conference)

 The purposes of the College were to be essentially twofold. First and foremost, improving the education and skills of the practitioner. Second, providing a venue for communication and fraternity among practitioners nationwide. Later, a third goal was set of increasing and recognizing the quality of the practitioners by obtaining ABA approval for specialization in the field. 

In pursuance of the educational objective, the Founders planned an annual national seminar. The focus would be on an intense educational experience with the highest quality faculty possible – while limiting enrollment and achieving an unheard-of faculty-to-student ratio of 6:1. In keeping with these objectives, it was decided to hold a three-day seminar at a highly respected law school. As a former law professor, Taylor was appointed to approach the administration at Harvard Law School with the proposal. 

The second objective, increasing communication and fraternity among isolated defense attorneys, was addressed through the seminars, the establishment of a website and, of critical importance, the creation of an email listserve with which members could instantly discuss issues and share ideas and experiences with fellow members across the country. 

In October of 1994, the Founders voted to create a Board of Regents to administer the College and hired an Executive Director for administrative duties. Essentially, the Board consisted of the original founders, with minor changes. By this time, Nichols’ law practice had shifted to employment law, and he withdrew from an active role with the College. In honor of his historic leadership, however, he was elected “Honorary Dean” for the first year.

When the Articles of Incorporation were filed in the state of Washington, the twelve Board of Regents were listed as follows:

Original Board of Regents (12):



 Don Nichols – Honorary Dean

Lawrence Taylor – Assistant Dean

Phil Price – Secretary

Reese Joye – Treasurer

William Head

Doug Cowan

Flem Whited

Victor Carmody

James Campbell

Gary Trichter

John Henry Hingson, lll

John Tarantino

John Tarantino withdrew early on due to time constraints and John Henry Hingson, lll, eventually withdrew, citing a potential conflict of interest with his position at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  Today, the current members of the Board of Regents have each committed twelve years of their lives and careers to the NCDD in order that the purpose and objectives as defined by the original ten Founders of the NCDD are maintained.


The facilities for the College’s first office were graciously provided by Head in his own Atlanta law offices.  Initial funding for the non-profit College came from $1,000 donations from each Founder, later supplemented with one-thousand dollar contributions from “Founding Members”, along with membership dues and seminar income.

The College’s First Summer Session at Harvard Law School was held in July of 1995 – and proved a resounding success. An annual Winter Session was soon added, to be held in different locales, and the College partnered with NACDL to jointly sponsor an annual national seminar in Las Vegas as well.  In 2005, William Head donated his Mastering Scientific Evidence program to the NCDD and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA), which they continue to co-sponsor.

In 2004, through the extensive efforts of Fellows James Campbell, Jess Paul, and Steve Oberman, the American Bar Association approved certification of DUI Defense as a specialty, with the College as the sole authorized certifying body.  

Since the hiring of Rhea Kirk in 2004 as the Executive Director, membership in the NCDD has continued to grow: as of 2011, there were over 1000 members. The internet listserve has proven an invaluable resource, and a newsletter updating members as to DUI legal developments was created.

Today, the NCDD continues to sponsor or co-sponsor numerous national seminars annually, including the original seminar at Harvard Law School.  The NCDD maintains an extensive online library of legal and scientific literature related to drunk driving litigation for its members as well as contributing funds and support to the defense of DUI.  The NCDD has also contributed in Supreme Court appeals involving important DUI-related legal and constitutional issues as amicus curie.  The NCDD continues to supervise the demanding ABA-approved oral and written exams of attorneys applying for certification as DUI specialists, and also provides a busy online discussion forum for its members and selected blood-alcohol scientists to share ideas, problems and solutions.