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Deaf DWI defendant challenges case based on failure to provide sign language interpreter

sign language

A deaf woman who was charged with drunk driving (DWI) and refusal to submit to a breath test in Boonton has moved to dismiss the charges based on the State’s failure to obtain a sign language interpreter to make sure she understood her rights and that she must submit to a breath test. Judge Andrew Wubbenhorst conducted a four hour hearing in the Boonton Municipal Court last week and is expected to issue his written opinion on this interesting issue within ten (10) days. The defendant’s attorney argued at the hearing that the Attorney General has authorized ten (10) audio tapes in different languages to ensure driver’s understand their rights and responsibilities with regard to DWI and Refusal charges in New Jersey. However, they do not have any videotapes to instruct deaf individuals on their rights. The defense argues that the driver did not understand that she must submit to a breath test and therefore the refusal charge is not valid. The municipal prosecutor argued that the officer communicated with the driver in writing and through hand gestures which she appeared to understand. However, it will be difficult for the State to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. The driver apparently asked for an interpreter but one was not available and “time was of the essence” to obtain her blood alcohol content (BAC).

This is a very interesting issue. In my view, we have multiple questions. First, the refusal charge should be dismissed if she was not properly informed of her rights and responsibilities. However, if she read the refusal form then that should have done that for her. On the other hand, can we be sure that she read and understood the refusal form? Beyond a reasonable doubt?

Second, if the refusal is dismissed, we still have the DWI charge. The article wasn’t clear on if she performed field sobriety tests. The State may still be able to prove the DWI based on the observations of the officer and her performance on the field sobriety tests. However, she must be instructed properly in order to perform the field sobriety tests and without a proper sign language interpreter, this would be almost impossible as well.

It will be very interesting to see how the Judge rules. For additional information, please see the Daily Record article entitled, “Deaf woman facing DWI charge in Boonton wants charges dropped because no interpreter was present”.

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