Kimberly Dvorak, San Diego County Examiner, July 14, 2010
In an effort to thwart law enforcement in the state from arresting those who don’t speak English during DUI stops, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled officers must bring non-English speakers into the station and translate the breathalyzer process for them in a language they understand.
The result of the added dog-and-pony show for non-English speakers could lead to law enforcement to think twice before they attempt to arrest those on suspicion of drunk driving. At the very least it will cause officers to leave the field and drive alleged DUI offenders to the station leaving fewer enforcement officers on their beats.
According to the ruling, New Jersey police must explain the state’s implied consent law to motorists in a language that they understand before making any arrests.
Monday’s State Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision overturned a conviction for a man who refused to take an alcohol breathalyzer test because he only spoke Spanish, and claims he did not understand the officers.
The dispute arose after police responded to a car accident. The police officer initially asked in English for Marquez to show his license and after noncompliance the officer repeated the request in Spanish.
Marquez said he didn’t understand the police and that he had taken the driver’s license test in Spanish.
One of Marquez’s excuses for the accident and officer misunderstanding was an unsubstantiated claim that he had taken two Percocet pills for pain that made him sleepy and dizzy.
“He was read his rights in a meaningless way,” said Marquez’s attorney, Michael B. Blacker. “Other states have not gotten this far. This is the first case where the court has said translation is the remedy.”
However, prosecutors argued that all drivers give an implied consent to take breath tests when they get a driver’s license and say when Marquez took his test in Spanish he was informed of the consent laws.
The Justices dissenting opinions said that police need only make reasonable efforts to inform motorists of the consequences and it was not a requirement that a motorist understand the consent law, especially if the driver may be intoxicated.