New Jersey Breath Test Laws: DUI Suspects Must be Warned in Language They Understand

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A New Jersey Supreme Court case recently determined that DUI suspects who don’t speak English are entitled to hear the consequences of refusing to take a breath test in a language that they understand.

USA Today is reporting on the recent decision. There is not another state that requires translations when it comes to DUI suspects and breathalyzer testing. Some states, like Washington and New York, do provide access to translators and access to computer translators and printed translations.

The decision was 4 to 3 in the case of German Marquez. Marquez was charged with DUI in 2007, after he rear-ended a car at a Plainfield, New Jersey, intersection.

Marquez speaks only Spanish, and didn’t understand it when a police officer explained to him that he was legally required to take a breathalyzer test so that police could determine if he was legally drunk. The instructions were delivered by the police officer in English.

As a result of the ruling, Marquez had his conviction of refusing to take a breath test vacated. His conviction of drunk driving, however, remains despite the decision.

“I think other states are going to follow New Jersey’s lead,” said Jeffrey Mandel, who filed a brief supporting Marquez for the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in New Jersey. "It should not logistically be an issue for police departments."

"Every department has access to computers, with laptops in cars or at stations.”

The ruling, according to USA Today, doesn’t require that translators are available on short notice, nor does it allow for the so-called “too drunk to understand” defense.

In prosecuting the case, State Attorney General Paula Dow's office made the case that the state’s law didn’t require that the statement be understood, only that it be read. Spokesman Peter Aseltine said that the Supreme Court’s decision could give immunity to a drunk driver who speaks a language that a police officer wasn’t able to translate or to identify for later translation.

Aseltine argued that there are more than 150 languages spoken by citizens of New Jersey.

Since April, the New Jersey police have had access to a website that provides translations of the appropriate messages in 10 different languages that are widely used in New Jersey. The web site has been put to use by police, though they weren’t able to say how frequently.

The majority decision from the Supreme Court said that the state would be in compliance with the decision as long as police used the aforementioned website, which offers explanations about the breath test in Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish.

County prosecutors will now begin informing police around the state about the web site and the ruling.

Aseltine told NJ.com that he wouldn’t pursue an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, because the case involves state law.

Marquez is still in prison on unrelated drug charges. His lawyer, Michael Blacker, took up the case because he felt it could have a wider impact on DUI cases in New Jersey.

“We got everything we wanted,” Blacker said.


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