Maryland’s Highest Court Throws Out a DUI Conviction After the Police Advised the Spanish-Speaking Driver of His Rights… in English

If you’re ever pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, this is a time when details (even small ones) can matter a great deal. What you do (or don’t do) and what the police officer does (or doesn’t do) can determine whether or not you’ll lose your driver’s license… or maybe whether or not you’ll go to jail. With so much on the line, don’t delay in contacting an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney about your case.

Maryland, like every other state, has what’s called “implied consent” laws. Because driving is a privilege and not a right, the state is free to say that you automatically consent to certain things when you seek and obtain a license to drive. One of those things to which you’ve implicitly consented is undergoing chemical tests when a law enforcement officer stops you on suspicion that you were driving drunk or high.

You still retain the right to refuse to undergo these things but, due to implied consent laws, the state MVA has the option to suspend your driving privileges based on that refusal. However, in order to punish you for refusing, the police first must complete some specific steps. First, the officer who stopped you for suspected DUI must sufficiently advise you of your rights. Then, the officer must give you the choice of either undergoing the chemical test or refusing (which would mean incurring penalties the MVA hands down.) As a recent Court of Appeals ruling has demonstrated, the first of these two steps is something where the police must act reasonably, making it an area where details matter significantly.

That case involved police who encountered W.F. asleep at the wheel of his vehicle. At the police station, the man underwent several field sobriety tests and failed them. An officer read to W.F. the content of Form DR-15, the “advice of rights” form (which is available on the MVA’s website in both print and audio formats, and in both English and Spanish.) The man signed the form, consenting to a chemical breathalyzer test. W.F. failed that breath test, so the state charged him with multiple drunk driving offenses, and the jury convicted him.

As noted above, details matter a lot in implied consent cases. When the police officer instructed W.F. on how to complete the field sobriety tests and when the officer read the contents of the advice of rights form to the man, the officer spoke in English and used the English-language form. W.F., however, was a Spanish speaker with only a very limited degree of comprehension of English.

The argument that W.F. took all the way to the state’s highest court was that, when the officer instructed and advised him in a language in which W.F. was not proficient, the officer failed to advise W.F. of his rights in a legally proper way.

‘Reasonable’ methods are required in advising suspects of implied consent rights

The high court agreed. In a new ruling with substantial importance for drivers in Maryland, the court declared that, when a law enforcement officer advises a driver regarding the rights and potential penalties covered under the implied consent laws, that officer “must use methods that reasonably convey the warnings and rights in the implied consent statute.” Speaking English to a driver with “limited English proficiency” is not a method that will reasonably lead to the suspect receiving the information that the law says he’s entitled to receive.

When an officer obtains a breath sample after using improper methods during the process of advising the suspect of his rights under the implied consent laws, then any test result produced from that is subject to suppression in the suspect’s criminal case. Getting that evidence suppressed is not automatic – you still have to make a motion seeking to have the evidence excluded. Winning this motion is often critical, as facing a prosecution absent your breathalyzer result can drastically increase the odds of an acquittal.

Whether you are facing DUI, DWI or other charges related to driving impaired, the penalties you potentially face are very serious. You may face large fines, a loss of your driver’s license or significant jail time. Protect yourself by securing skilled legal counsel. The experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC have been providing that kind of powerful legal representation to the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 888-519-2801 or via our online form.

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