As a DUI Defense Attorney, I have represented dozens of clients charged with DUI and other offenses throughout Washington state who speak a native language other than English. Most would have preferred to have spoken with an interpreter before agreeing - or refusing - to submit to the breath alcohol test (BAC). Few of them were actually given that opportunity by the arresting officer. ALL of them would have benefitted from speaking with an interpreter, especially regarding the confusing (and NOT easily translated) Implied Consent Warnings. Our laws clearly state that, following an arrest for DUI, the person arrested must be properly advised of her rights and the Implied Consent Warnings (ICWs), "in words easily understood." RCW 46.20.308, CrRLJ 3.1.
Our laws clearly state that, following an arrest for DUI, the person arrested must be properly advised of her rights and the Implied Consent Warnings (ICWs), "in words easily understood." RCW 46.20.308, CrRLJ 3.1.
Do you need an interpreter? Take this simple test.
If you speak a native language other than English, and you EVER struggle, in your daily life (personal, social, business, etc.) to understand English when it is spoken to you, and you are stopped by police, then YOU NEED AN INTERPRETER.
Let me say that again: YOU NEED AN INTERPRETER.
I don't care if you've been in the US for 20 years, you think you understand what the officer is saying to you, or the officer seems to think you do. You need an interpreter for one simple reason: that officer is focused completely on gathering evidence against you, and doesn't care one bit whether or not you understand what you're being told. As long as your head is bobbing up and down in response to her words, as far as she's concerned, you understand her just fine.
My wife is Korean. She has lived in the US since 2000. She studied English as a student in Seoul, and has spoken English during her time here. We speak English in our home, though she speaks Korean with our kids (my Korean is limited to say the least). We communicate just fine, though there are times when words mean something different to her than me, and vice versa.
But if she were stopped by police and questioned, SHE WOULD NEED AN INTERPRETER.
Why? First, because certain words and concepts, especially legal ones, simply do not translate accurately from English to other languages, particularly non-Western ones. I heard of a case where the officer actually used Bing Translator to translate the ICWs to someone who spoke Korean only. Ask any Korean interpreter if the ICWs translate directly from English to Korean, and they'll just shake their head. It just doesn't work that way. (By the way - I read the ICWs to my wife just prior to writing this blog. I read them slower than the cops usually do. She didn't have a clue what I was talking about.)
Second: because when under stressful circumstances, including an intimidating and often-overbearing cop interrogation, one's ability to concentrate on the English being spoken to him is diminished. I hear this a lot from my clients who speak English as their secondary language. And I've seen enough Dash-Cam and BAC room videos to know that police officers don't go out of their way to slow down while spouting their legalese to the arrestee just because they think that person might not fully understand what they're being told.
Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look at the Implied Consent Warnings (page 3, click here). Read them out loud to yourself. Then imagine you're someone with a limited understanding of the English language, under arrest, afraid and nervous, being read these to you by a police officer. Think you might want to speak to an interpreter?
The Officer's Job is to Gather Evidence Against You. By Any (Legal) Means Necessary. Period.
I recently went to trial on a case where my client was charged with DUI and accused of refusing the breath test. This client had lived in the US for less than ten years. In his native land, this client spoke a local language there that you've probably never heard of. His English is very limited today. I know this personally because of the tremendous difficulties we encountered communicating with each other over the course of several months leading up to his trial.
But you wouldn't know any of this from reading the arresting officer's report. She never even mentioned that my client had an accent, much less that there was any indication he spoke a native language other than English. She claimed that they conversed just fine in English. I knew this was a load of crap, and that my client desperately needed the assistance of an interpreter to understand what he was being asked to do.
He of course didn't know he had the right to speak with an interpreter. The officer of course never told him he did. They rarely do. They don't have to. It's perfectly legal not to. So why bother?
In fact, when it comes to the Implied Consent Warnings, the officer doesn't even have to ask you if you understand what he read to you. All he has to do is indicate whether or not you expressed any confusion. Most people who are confused don't even know to express that they're confused. So they don't. Which is just fine with that officer, trust me.
Make no mistake - the officer's only priority is to gather evidence against you. He's already arrested you. He only wants to make the case against you stronger - to validate his decision to arrest you. The more he can get out of you without having to deal with trivial matters like whether or not you understand what he's saying, the easier it is for him to do his job.
Tell it to the Judge? Good Luck With That.
Later on, in court, the burden to show that you needed an interpreter is extremely high. If you didn't ask for an interpreter, or make it clear to the officer that you didn't understand what he was saying in English, it's nearly impossible. Remember that, even if you did tell the officer this, unless there's a video, whether or not that information makes it into the officer's report is up to the honesty and integrity of that officer. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.
If you are not a native English speaker, remember that if you're arrested for DUI, the officer's primary goal is to gather evidence against you. It is not to ensure your rights. That's up to you. If you are arrested for any reason, especially for DUI, immediately demand that you be able to speak to an attorney, and also make it clear to the officer, and that attorney, that you need an interpreter.