Language translation and foreign language interpretation issues abound in criminal law cases. In the State of New Jersey vs. German Marquez* (Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Decided July 1, 2009), Defendant Marquez, a licensed New Jersey driver, appealed his conviction for refusing to submit to a breath test after being arrested for drunk driving. Defendant claimed, that because he was only fluent in Spanish and did not understand English, he could not be guilty of refusing to comply with the breath test instruction (“standard statement“) that was read to him in English by the arresting police officer.
The Court affirmed Marquez’s conviction, concluding that the law does not require a foreign language translation of the “standard statement” under the state statute and that Defendant had given his implied consent to submit to a breath test when he obtained his driver’s license.
The Court, noting that the statute does not specify in which languages the “standard statement” should be read, recommended that the Motor Vehicle Commission consider having the “standard statement” translated into Spanish as well as other prevalent foreign languages. Acknowledging the burden the police would have in translating the “statement” into hundreds of languages spoken in the U.S., the Court suggested that audio readings of the translated versions be created and played for DUI arrestees.
A casual reading of other states’ “implied consent” laws regarding breath tests makes no mention of a requirement for foreign language translations of their “standard statements.” Like New Jersey, states such as California do offer foreign language translations of their motor vehicle driver’s manual as well as allow people to take the driver’s test in languages other than English.
Whether law enforcement will offer professional foreign language translation services to suspected DUI violators remains to be seen.