Oregon Supreme Court redefines the term "informed"

In a bizarre case of judicial pretzel logic, today the Oregon Supreme Court holds that a person who is arrested for drunk driving has been "informed" of the consequences of their failure to submit to a breath test even if they do not understand what has been told to them. In fact, they can be told in a language they do not understand.

Oregon law provides that when a person is arrested for drunk driving that they be "informed" of their rights regarding the taking of a breath test. They must also be "informed" of the consequences of they refuse to do so. The law states that anyone who operates a vehicle on public roads gives in advance their implied consent to such testing. Nonetheless, the rights and consequences regarding the taking of a breath test are lengthy and complicated. The law is clear that the arrested person must be "informed" of them prior to the admission of the test.

Refusal to submit to such testing will result in a number of consequences including a lengthened suspension of one's driver's license, increased fines, ineligibility for hardship or conditional driving privileges. Additionally, the failure to take the test can be admitted in evidence against the person in a later drunk driving trial and refuse to take a lawfully requested test is itself a crime.

In today's case, the arrested person spoke Spanish. The arresting officer read him the required information in English. The question for the court was whether or not he was "informed" when it was clear he did not understand what was told to him.

Acknowledging that the plain meaning of the term to "inform" means to impart information, the court chose to ignore that simple fact and went on a long and torturous exposition on why that word doesn't really mean what it does give their divination of the legislative purpose underpinning Oregon's drunk driving implied consent laws.

The court's convoluted analysis boils down to this: Since we have all given our implied consent to these tests as a condition of being allowed to drive, It is not necessary that the person understands all (or indeed much or anything) communicated by the police - it is enough that they just read the form. Why the legislature just must've misspoken when they used the term "inform."They really didn't mean it.

Really? did the OSC just read the words " before the test is administered the person requested shall be informed of the rights and consequences..." right out of the statute? It appears so.

Drunk driving cases in Oregon get more complex every day. Decisions like this one are partly to blame. Oregon drunk driving defense attorneys certainly have fertile ground within which to operate.


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