Breath Test Refusal Charges and the Foreign Language Barrier

On June 9, 2010 the Supreme Court of New Jersey made national headlines when it ruled in favor German Marquez, a Latino immigrant to the United States who refused to submit to a breath test under suspicion of a DWI. In response to his refusal, the state of New Jersey charged Marquez with Refusal to Submit to a Breath Test pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C: 39: 4-50.4.The USA Today reported that Marquez, who was not fluent in the English language at the time of the traffic stop, was not liable for Refusal to Submit to a Breath Test because he had not understood the penalties stated to him in the English language.

N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2 also requires that an officer “shall inform” the suspect of his or her rights. In New Jersey, this is usually done by way of a Standard Statement issued by the New Jersey Attorney General that clearly lists the consequences of refusal and that a police officer is required to read to a motorist suspected of driving while intoxicated. In the Marquez case, the officer did not fail to read the Standard Statement to Marquez. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a driver who cannot understand English has not been “informed” of the consequences of refusal when read the Standard Statement by an officer in the English language. New Jersey police officers now have tools that they must use in order to ensure that persons pulled over under suspicion of a DWI are read a Standard Statement that clearly enumerates the consequences for a refusal in language that they fully understand in order to make an informed decision.

In New Jersey, a person has given “his consent to the taking of samples of his breath…to determine the content of alcohol in his blood” when the arresting officer has “reasonable grounds to believe that such person has been operating a motor vehicle” while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If the individual refuses, the police officer will read the Standard Statement that explains the penalties associated with refusal. If the individual continues to refuse to consent to a breathalyzer or Alcotest 7110 after being read this statement, then that person will most likely be charged with “refusal” pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2.

The penalties for Refusal to Submit to a Breath Test in New Jersey are quite severe, closely mirroring the penalties for actual DWI convictions. These penalties include:

  • License Suspension. For a first offense breath test refusal, an offender faces a seven (7) month license suspension. A second offender is subject to a two (2) year license suspension. An offender with three or more breath test refusals is exposed to a ten (10) year license revocation.
  • Fines. For a first offense refusal, a fine of $300-$500 will be imposed, for a second offense the fine will be between $500-$1,000, and for a third or subsequent refusal the fine will be $1,000.
  • Ignition Interlock. For a first offense refusal, an ignition interlock device must be installed during the period of license suspension and for between 6 months and 1 year immediately following the restoration of the offender’s driving privileges. For any repeat offender, the interlock device must be installed during the license suspension and for a period between one (1) and three (3) years immediately following the restoration of the driver’s license.

Like the language barrier defense used by Marquez, there are many defenses that can be utilized to help beat the charges that you or a loved one is facing. Speak to an experienced attorney to find out more on how to beat breath test refusal charges and lower the penalties for refusal in New Jersey.