People v. Niedzwiecki
Court Discusses Whether a Polish Immigrant Received Clear and Unambiguous Refusal Warning
The defendant was a polish immigrant who was arrested by the police for DWI driving while intoxicated. The defendant was initially stopped by the police after he operated his vehicle without his headlights and was weaving while driving. The defendant was read his Miranda rights in English even though it was evident that he had a strong foreign accent. The defendant was asked to submit to a breathalyzer test and requested the assistance of a Polish “translocator”. The criminal defendant refused to submit to a breathalyzer test and later requested to supress his refusal because the warning was not unequivocal in a language that he could understand.
The defendant who was only in the United States for a year and a half showed a limited knowledge of the English language which he had acquired from studying for three months at high school. The defendant had lived in a Polish community where he was not required to use English. The defendant’s family and friends were also Polish and facilitated his continued use of his native language. Even though the defendant knew little English, when he was confronted with the language of section 1194 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law Language, he was requested the assistance of a translator. The law requires that the request to do a breathalyzer test must be clear and unequivocal language to inform the defendant about his rights and consequences of his refusal. The evidence that the defendant refused to do submit a breathalyzer test can only be admitted into evidence where there was a strict adherence to the guidelines stipulated by section 1194 of the VTL. Section 1194(2) is recited verbatim by using language that is familiar to only members affiliated with the legal profession. Thus, the defendant would not be able to understand the legal ramifications flowing from refusing the breathalyzer test, since he was not proficient in English.
A person will only be deemed to refuse the test where the refusal warning was clear and unequivocal. The actions of the defendant will only constitute a refusal only if he was warned against it as stated in White v. Melton, 60 A.D.2d 1000. Mere silence is not enough to constitute a refusal if the defendant was not told by the officer that the refusal would be introduced into evidence. In the instant case, the officer had realized that there was a language barrier when the defendant was arrested. The police efforts to secure someone from personnel present who could speak Polish did not satisfy their duty to inform the defendant of his rights and consequences of refusal to submit to breathalyzer test, and thus, his refusal was inadmissible on grounds that warnings given him were not clear and unequivocal language required by statute.
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