Not Guilty By Reason of Limited English Proficiency
Pennsylvania case illustrates a dangerous future of justice
U.S. English, Feb. 2
In a terrifying blow to the future of law enforcement and criminal proceedings, Bucks County [Pa.] prosecutors were forced to drop drug charges against a man after a Pennsylvania Superior Court declared a search void due to the accused’s inability to understand English.
After Pennsylvania police pulled over New York resident Miqueas Acosta for driving with an expired safety sticker in June 2000, a subsequent search of his vehicle found a kilo of cocaine hidden in the minivan. Acosta claimed that the drugs, with a street value of $100,000, were not his and that he had only been hired by an acquaintance to drive the van from New York to Philadelphia. In addition, Acosta said that he was confused by the English questions from the officers and felt pressured into authorizing the search. A Pennsylvania court agreed, saying that the officers should have waited for a translator after reading the man his Miranda rights in Spanish, and ruled the drugs inadmissible.
“This case sets a dangerous precedent,” said Mauro E. Mujica, Chairman of U.S. English, Inc. “It tells Americans that lack of English proficiency is a valid excuse for those suspected of criminal activity. Furthermore, it places an undue burden on police officers working to protect our nation. Will there soon be a need for hundreds of officers, each speaking a different language, to attend to each traffic stop?” Census figures have found more than 325 languages spoken in the United States, including 138 in Pennsylvania.
“Here we have a man driving on some of the most heavily traveled roads in the nation who cannot understand English enough to consent to a search of his vehicle,” Mujica observed. “Unfortunately, we have more and more drivers on the road just like him, people who cannot understand road signs, report suspicious activity or interact with local law enforcement. We must ask ourselves why, in a nation with more than 44,000 motor vehicle deaths annually, we are licensing drivers who cannot speak English.” In all, more than 21 million Americans are limited English proficient, more than 3.3 million of who can’t speak English at all.
According to information obtained by U.S. English, New York currently offers its driver’s license exam in 21 languages. “Every language is worthy of being spoken at home and with friends,” said Mujica, who is fluent in four languages. “But it is ridiculous that states are licensing drivers to operate vehicles on American roads in languages other than English.
“Instead of the multilingual government approach that puts Americans at risk, we must make a commitment to English. A collective effort to promote a common language will not only be a benefit to the safety of our roads, but to the promise of our future.”
U.S.ENGLISH is the nation’s oldest and largest citizens’ action group dedicated to preserving the unifying role of the English language in the United States (website: www.usenglish.org). Founded in 1983 by the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California, U.S.ENGLISH now has more than 1.8 million members nationwide.