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Whiskey Plates - License Plate Impoundment

“The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, but never to fling down; for the accumulating days and added years would pile up their misery upon the heap of shame.”[1]

Hester Prynne’s heap of shame in The Scarlet Letter is not so different than the burden certain DWI offenders endure – losing their regular license plates and replacing them with special registration plates.[2] There is not one legitimate purpose for the punishment. The only driving factor behind the chastisement is pure and utter shame. Cops cannot legally pull someone over just because they have whiskey plates.[3] The money required to buy the plates, only fifty dollars, is not put in a charitable fund. Sometimes the person driving the vehicle with whiskey plates did not even get the DWI, but they still have to bear the burden of misery.

Why Do I Have to Get Whiskey Plates?

In Minnesota, license plate impoundment triggers when you have:

  • Two or more DWIs, or DWI-related driver’s license revocations, within ten years;
  • An alcohol concentration of .16 or more within two hours of the DWI;
  • A child under the age of sixteen in the vehicle during the DWI, if the child is more than thirty-six months younger than you;
  • A driver’s license already canceled inimical to public safety and then drive without a valid license; and
  • A CDL disqualification from a DWI, or DWI-related commercial driver’s license revocation, within ten years of a DWI or DWI-related driver’s license revocation.

In the above situations, the DWI offender receives a notice and order of license plate impoundment. They must surrender, or destroy, the license plates for the vehicle they were driving at the time of the DWI incident and all other plates for any other vehicle registered in their name.

If mom or dad gets a DWI while having an alcohol concentration of .16 or more, and they have five family vehicles all registered in their name, then all the vehicles are subject to whiskey plates. If you are driving your buddy’s car home because you are less wasted than he is, and you get a DWI that triggers plate impoundment, then your buddy also needs DWI plates on his vehicle if he was a passenger in the vehicle.[4] But if you were driving your friend’s car and got a DWI that triggered whiskey plates and your friend was not a passenger at the time, then your friend should file an administrative review to get their regular plates back, but you are out of luck.

How Do I Challenge This Nonsense? 

Upon receiving a notice and order for license plate impoundment, you have thirty days to file for judicial review. This is typically done by filing an implied consent petition in conjunction with challenging your driver’s license revocation from the DWI. Some jurisdictions, mainly Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, allow for a temporary reinstatement of license plates pending the implied consent hearing. Importantly, you must prevent a conviction for DWI in criminal court and then be successful at your implied consent hearing to avoid whiskey plates.

Alternatively, you may file for an administrative review of the license plate impoundment order (form found here). After filling out the form, you can fax it to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The fax number is on the top of the form. Within a few weeks of receipt, DPS will send you its decision by mail. Generally, an administrative review challenge is only fruitful if someone else was driving your vehicle and you were not a passenger. This form can also be used if you wish to get approval for selling a vehicle subject to license plate impoundment.

For further information about license plate impoundment you can contact DPS’s plate impound unit at 651-297-5034. If you are able to connect with someone on the phone, they can be very helpful. You may also contact our office at 612-547-3199, ambroselegal@icloud.com, or by filling out a free consultation form below.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense attorney who also practices DWI / DUI defense in Minnesota. Because whiskey plates serve no real purpose in the legal world, or more practical world for that matter, he believes Minnesota should abolish them.

[1] Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter 66 (1864).

[2] Special registration plates are commonly referred to as DWI plates or simply whiskey plates. They have a white background with black letters and numbers and start with the letter “W”.

[3] See State v. Henning, 666 N.W.2d 379, 385 (Minn. 2003) (finding a statute unconstitutional that allowed police officers to stop vehicles bearing special registration plates without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity).

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