Implied Consent Warnings in New Jersey DWI Cases: “But, I don’t speak English!”

If you are charged with refusal to submit to breath testing in a New Jersey DWI / Refusal case, but you don’t speak English well enough to understand the implied consent warning, you may have a defense to the refusal charge. Refusal convictions require proof that the officer requested that you submit to a chemical breath test and informed you of the consequences of refusing to do so. Even though motorists are deemed to have given their consent to submit to breath testing, the officer must still inform the driver of the consequences of refusal.

In a case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court called State v. Marquez, the Court stated that the obligation to “inform” requires more than a recitation of English words to a non-English speaker. “Knowledge cannot be imparted in that way.” The officer must convey the implied consent warning in a language the person speaks or understands.

The point of the officer advising a driver of the penalties for refusal “is to impel the driver to take the test so that the State will have the evidence necessary to prosecute a DWI charge.” That aim cannot be accomplished, according to the court, by reading words in a language the motorist does not understand.

The Marquez court said that “reading the standard statement to motorists in a language they do not speak is akin to not reading the statement at all. The latter scenario renders a conviction defective.”

In a published survey from 2008, Spanish translations, for example, accounted for 74,762, or about 85%, of the translated court sessions in New Jersey. The next most frequently translated languages in New Jersey courts were Portuguese (2,127 events), Polish (1,404), Korean (1,255), Haitian Creole (1,157), American Sign Language (1,118), Chinese/Mandarin (942), Russian (804), Arabic (706), and Vietnamese (425).

The implied consent law is written in Spanish in the driver’s manual published by the Motor Vehicle Commission. The MVC also offers the driver license written exam in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese, and oral tests are conducted in English and Spanish. If the tests are not offered in your native language, the MVC allows you to use an interpreter.

In Marquez, the Supreme Court encouraged the MVC and the Attorney General to develop methods to translate and communicate the implied consent warning to motorists who do not speak English. As a result, certified translated versions of the standard statement have been prepared in both written and audio form in the nine foreign languages in which the MVC offers the written driver’s test, namely, Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. The translated written and audio files are posted on the MVC website.

Defendants who claim that they do not speak or understand English have to demonstrate this to the court. Consult with a qualified NJ DWI defense attorney to evaluate all the defenses available to you in a New Jersey DWI / Refusal case.