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Law Office of
Ronald A. Cabanayan

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Justice Is On Your Side

3 things to do when you’re pulled over and don’t speak English

On Behalf of | Dec 16, 2021 | Criminal Defense

If you are stopped by the police, you may already know that you need to present your license and registration. If you don’t speak English, this may be where the difficulties increase.

When you can’t speak English well or don’t at all, it may be hard to follow an officer’s orders or to ask for clarification. What should you do if you end up in this situation? There are a few options.

  1. Carry a card that explains that you don’t speak English

One good option is to keep a card with your license and registration that states that you don’t speak English. Whether you speak Spanish or another language, you should include a statement that says which language you speak and that asks for an interpreter. The officer should be able to get someone to help you both communicate on the phone.

  1. Express yourself in simple English phrases

Another helpful tip is to express yourself in some easy English phrases. As an example, you may say, “I don’t speak English, do you speak Spanish?” “I don’t understand.” “I speak Spanish.” Simple phrases like this will help you explain that you are trying to understand but need help in another language.

  1. Learn your rights in advance

American traffic stop laws are relatively straightforward. It’s a good idea to learn your rights in advance so that you have some concept of what happens during a typical traffic stop. That way, even if you don’t understand everything the officer is saying to you, you should be able to understand some of what’s happening until you get an interpreter’s help.

It can be hard to be in the country and not speak English, but many people do speak Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and other languages. There is a chance that you and the officer may both speak the same language, even if the interaction begins in English. It is worth asking and making sure that they understand that you are being compliant but may not understand what they’re saying.

If you end up being arrested or don’t understand why you are facing a ticket or criminal charge, it’s time to look into further legal options. You always have a right to defend yourself, even for traffic violations.