Drunk Driving Charges and Your Right to Receive Instructions in a Language You Can Understand


In all states, including New Jersey, if you arrested for driving while intoxicated, the police officer must read a “standard statement” that contains instructions telling the driver that he or she MUST submit to breath testing if there is probable cause to believe that the person was driving under the influence of alcohol. Part of the standard statement – sometimes referred to in New Jersey as Paragraph 36 – is the warning that if you refuse to submit to the breath test and “if a court finds you guilty of the refusal, you will be subject to various penalties, including license revocation of up to 20 years, a fine of up to $2000, installation of an ignition interlock, and referral to an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. These penalties may be in addition to penalties imposed by the court for any other offense of which you are found guilty.” The entire statement is meant to inform you that there are serious consequences that will occur if you refuse to provide a breath sample. A copy of Paragraph 36, as updated in 2012, can be found at http://njpdresources.com/dui/pdfs/english1.pdf

But what happens if you or someone you know does not speak English? ¿Hablas Español? Nói tiếng Việt? Говорить по-русски? Another language? Regardless of what language you speak, New Jersey law also provides that you have a right to have these instructions provided to you in a language that you can understand. Otherwise, it is possible that your rights are being impermissibly violated.

State v. Rodriguez-Alejo

In State v. Rodriguez-Alejo, a Spanish-speaking man who could barely speak English, and who had only been in the United States for two years and had taken his driving test in Spanish, was pulled over and suspected of drunk driving.  At the police station, the officer attempted to read the standard instructions to the defendant, and the man stated that he did not understand.   Although he tried to follow along with the police officer anyway, who used a combination of words and gestures to provide instructions, the defendant was not able to provide a proper breath sample and was later convicted for refusing to comply with the breath sample requirements.

On appeal, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division restated that a police officer must read the standard statement to any defendant who is arrested for DWI/DUI, and the defendant must CLEARLY agree to submit to a breathalyzer test. Therefore, the Court held that reading the standard statement to motorists in a language they do not speak is the same thing as not reading the statement at all.

In order to be “informed” of the warnings that are provided in Paragraph 36, the information must be given to the defendant in a language he or she speaks and understands. The same reasoning applies to any instructions that are given to a defendant about how to actually take a breathalyzer test. Based on this holding, the Court decided that the Spanish-speaking defendant could not be convicted for refusing to provide a breath sample.

State v. Shaymardanov

It is important to note, however, that a defendant only needs to understand the instructions being given to him – the instructions do not need to be given in the defendant’s best or native language.

Recently, in the case of State v. Shaymardanov, the Appellate Division revisited State v. Rodriguez-Alejo with regard to a Russian-speaking defendant who was pulled over and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Although the Court determined that Rodriguez-Alejo was still good law, the Appellate Division upheld the conviction, finding that the driver always appeared to understand the police officer and the police officer had no trouble understanding the defendant.

Instructions Available in Other Languages

Since at least 2010, the State has arranged for certified translated versions of the standard statement to be prepared—in both written and audio form—in the nine foreign languages in which the MVC offers the written driver’s test – Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. If you or someone you care about is arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, it is likely that the police will be able to provide you with instructions in a language you can understand. While you should always contact an experienced New Jersey DWI / DUI lawyer / attorney if you are charged, an attorney may be able to help if you were never provided with instructions in a language you could understand.

New Jersey DUI/DWI Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Will Fight to Make Sure Your Rights Were Protected

If you or someone you know is charged for any crime relating to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is extremely important to contact an experienced DUI/DWI attorney who can explain what rights you have in your specific situation. If you go to court, an experienced lawyer can also make sure you get the best result possible. Having an experienced drunk driving lawyer can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI/DUI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey.