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Spanish-speaking OUI arrestee fights inaccurate rights translation

Even after the City of Methuen's Spanish translation of a rights notice was thrown out by a judge, a Spanish-speaking woman claims it is still being used to coerce arrestees. She has filed a federal class action to compel Methuen to correct its form, as it has promised to do in the past.

The plaintiff, a Spanish speaker, was stopped on suspicion of OUI in October 2014. Believing, due to the rights form, that she was forced to choose between submitting to the breath test or having it used against her, she submitted and pled guilty to OUI. Ultimately her case was overturned, in part because of the defective rights form.

She claims that Methuen's use of the form is unlawful and that English- and Spanish-speaking individuals have been treated unequally due to its use. She is seeking an injunction preventing further use of the defective form, along with damages for violations of her Equal Protection, Due Process and other rights.

The form has been found defective in the past. In March 2013, another Spanish-speaking defendant filed a motion to suppress the results of his breath test due to the inaccurate and coercive nature of the Methuen PD's Spanish-language OUI rights form. The Commonwealth conceded and a court granted that motion. The Essex County District Attorney's Office said at the time that it would work with the Methuen PD to rectify problems with the form.

According to the lawsuit, Methuen's Spanish-language form contains a number of factual and legal inaccuracies:

  • It lists the legal limit for OUI as a blood alcohol content of 0.10 and says there is no presumption that a person with less than a 0.10 BAC is impaired. (In fact, anyone with a 0.08 BAC or higher is considered under the influence "per se.")
  • It states that a breath test of 0.05 BAC or lower will 'liberate' the defendant from the charge. (In reality, if police conclude a driver is impaired despite a low BAC result, they can use other evidence to substantiate the charge.)
  • It says that refusing a breath test will result in a 120-day driver's license suspension. (The actual penalty is a license revocation of 180 days or longer.)
  • It claims that, if the defendant refuses the breath test, a jury in a criminal trial will be informed of that refusal. (This would violate the defendant's rights.)

"Taken separately or together, the errors in the Spanish language advice of rights form render it not only erroneous and misleading, but also unconstitutionally and unlawfully coercive," reads the lawsuit.

If you have been arrested for OUI in Methuen and believe this form was used, you should contact an attorney immediately.

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