N.J. Court: Police Must Use Language Suspects Know
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Joel Rose reports that the ruling could force police to change the way they communicate with New Jersey's many non-English speakers.
JOEL ROSE: The case dates back to September of 2007, when German Marquez rear-ended another driver. The police officer in Plainfield, New Jersey who arrested Marquez told him that he was required to take a breath test, but the officer read those instructions in English, and Marquez only speaks Spanish.
MICHAEL BLACKER: It just seemed unjust to me that this guy could be charged with a quasi-criminal offense almost exclusively because he couldn't speak English.
ROSE: But as Blacker points out, the law still requires police to inform drivers about the consequences of refusing.
BLACKER: You just simply can't inform someone by telling them something in a language they clearly don't understand, and that's what this case is really about.
ROSE: Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
ROSE: Still, the state's attorney general strongly disagreed with the ruling, and local law enforcement officials don't like it either.
PAUL TURSI: It just puts another burden on the police officer who's out enforcing the laws for our society.
ROSE: Paul Tursi is the police chief of Riverside Township in South Jersey. He's afraid the ruling will offer new options for creative defense lawyers.
TURSI: If you open this door, then where does it end up? Should all the street signs be changed? If someone from a different nationality goes through and they don't understand the sign, can they be convicted of that violation?
ROSE: For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
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