Though many Minnesotans may not realize it, the state has the authority to take a license plate from them under certain circumstances, a process known as “license plate impoundment.” So what does this mean exactly and how does it work? Continue reading to get a feel for how license plate impoundment works in Minnesota and how you might be impacted by the law.
What is license plate impoundment?
In Minnesota, certain drunk driving infractions can trigger a license plate impoundment order, something that can lead to not only difficulty, but embarrassment for the impacted drivers. Impoundment occurs when a drunk driver is ordered to surrender his or her license plates to law enforcement officials, hindering their ability to drive until a temporary certificate is issued.
When does impoundment happen?
In Minnesota, license plate impoundment can occur when a person receives two or more drunk driving convictions or alcohol related license revocations within a 10-year period. Impoundments also occur when a driver is found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .16 or more. The law says that drivers who operate a motor vehicle while impaired with a minor under 16 in the car are also subject to license plate impoundment. Finally, those drunk drivers who were operating their vehicle without a valid driver’s license also face the prospect of plate impoundment.
How does impoundment work?
License plate impoundment typically happens quickly. It often occurs when the arresting officer issues an order on behalf of the Commissioner of Public Safety. At the same time as the impoundment order is issued, the officer will also issue a permit that allows for the temporary licensing of the vehicle. This permit is only valid for seven days if the car was registered in the name of the driver or 45 days if in someone else’s name. Though officers often issue the impoundment orders, they can also come from a judge or from the Department of Public Safety.
No matter who issues the order, it’s important to understand that the impoundment can apply to more than just one license plate. Minnesota’s law says that once an impoundment has been ordered the license plate on the vehicle that was used in the commission of the crime will be impounded, even if the driver does not own the vehicle. The impoundment order also applies to any vehicles owned, registered or leased by the offender, either alone or jointly with another person. This means that not only is the drunk driver impacted by the impoundment, but also anyone else in the family who shares vehicles in the name of the offender.
Impoundments in Minnesota last for a minimum of one year. At the end of the designated impoundment period a new plate can be applied for and restrictions are ended.
So what is a “whiskey” plate?
In Minnesota impounded plates are often referred to as “whiskey” plates. The term comes from the looks of the impounded plates. In Minnesota, a driver can apply for a limited driver’s license and receive temporary license plates that go on his or her vehicle until he or she is allowed to apply for permanent plates. These plates always contain certain letters, typically starting with the letter “W”, thus earning the nickname “whiskey” plates.
One important note about whiskey plates is that until the early 2000s, officers in Minnesota were allowed to stop any vehicle and conduct an investigation at any time merely because the vehicle had whiskey plates. Thankfully the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down this behavior as unconstitutional in 2003. Since then, police officers are no longer allowed to stop a vehicle purely on the basis of whiskey plates, instead, an actual legal violation must have occurred prior to a traffic stop. However, the reality is that police will likely be closely observing any vehicle with a whiskey plate meaning even small errors might be used as justification for a traffic stop.
What can be done about impoundment?
Plate impoundment can definitely be a hardship and it is good to know that an impoundment order does not have to be the last word on the subject. A driver who has received such an order has the right to ask for a court to review the impoundment. The driver must act quickly though, as he or she only has 30 days to file a petition requesting judicial review of the impoundment order.
The law in Minnesota says that the petition asking for judicial review must explain with specificity why the impoundment order should be reversed. To help ensure that this process is handled appropriately and with proper attention to detail, consult an experienced Minnesota drunk driving/DWI attorney who can guide you through the process.
When you should hire a Minneapolis, MN DWI Lawyer
If you have received a license plate impoundment order subsequent to a DWI arrest, it is very important that you contact an attorney immediately to discuss your case. As already stated, challenge to your plate impoundment order can be made, if file in a timely manner. Douglas T. Kans and his Minneapolis DWI defense team have been challenging civil consequences such as plate impoundment for over 18 years.