On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Municipal Appeal No. A-17-10-Y15.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 17, 2012 - Decided Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Fasciale.
Defendant appeals from his de novo conviction for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2. The main question is whether he was informed of the consequences of his refusal. Defendant, who speaks Polish and English, contends that he was not informed because a police officer communicated with him only in English. We affirm.
Officer John O'Neil responded to the scene of a one-car accident and observed defendant standing near his damaged vehicle. The office approached defendant, noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and his face was "very flushed," and detected a strong odor of alcohol emanating from his breath. After speaking to defendant in English and observing the scene of the accident, the officer determined that a truck approached defendant from the opposite direction in which defendant was traveling and forced defendant's vehicle to strike a telephone pole. Defendant complained to the officer that his chest hurt and he was then transported to the hospital. As a result, field sobriety tests were not performed.
At the hospital, medical personnel suspected that defendant had been drinking and, along with the officer, requested his permission to conduct a blood test. Defendant refused the blood test and medical treatment, stated that he was no longer injured, and signed himself out of the hospital. The officer then advised defendant that he would transport him to headquarters to administer an Alcotest.
They arrived at the police station within a couple of hours of the accident. Officer O'Neil read the contents of a document entitled the Division of Motor Vehicles Standard Statement for Operations of a Motor Vehicle (standard statement). Defendant listened to the standard statement in English, answered "no" to the questions regarding the Alcotest, and then refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. The police then charged him with the offense.*fn1
The matter was tried in the municipal court before Judge John Edward Palmer, III. Officer O'Neil testified for the state and Judge Palmer found that the officer's testimony was credible. In denying defendant's motion to dismiss the refusal charge, Judge Palmer stated:
I'm not convinced that there was any language barrier whatsoever. I believe that the defendant spoke and understood English . completely and he, in fact, never indicated there was any problem with understanding . . . the questions that were asked by the officer.
Defendant then testified with the use of a Polish interpreter. Judge palmer found that defendant has been in the United States for eighteen years, operates his own business, and "dealt with English speaking people on a regular basis[.]" He also found that defendant was "not believable."
Judge Palmer rendered an oral opinion and found defendant guilty of refusal to submit to the breathalyzer test.*fn2 In finding that defendant knowingly and voluntarily refused the breathalyzer test, Judge Palmer stated that:
At no time did the defendant indicate that he did not understand the police officer, nor did he . . . indicate that he didn't understand the [s]tandard [s]tatement that was read to him.
The judge treated the refusal conviction as a second offense, sentenced defendant to a two-year loss of license, and imposed the appropriate fines and penalties. Defendant appealed to the ...