While it is commonly known that drivers’ licenses may be revoked due to a Minnesota DWI, but not many individuals are aware of the fact that license plates may also be impounded.
Minnesota statutes require individuals involved in specific DWI situations to obtain special registration plates known as “whiskey plates”. These impoundment plates are easily identifiable by state law enforcement because they contain certain characters. They generally begin with the letter “W”, are followed by a second letter – such as WR, WS, WT, WX, WY and WZ – and then four numerals.
If you have been arrested for a DUI, your vehicle’s license plates may be impounded if conditions such as these apply:
- Prior DWI conviction within a period of 10 years
- Prior DUI related license revocation within a period of 10 years
- The driver has a blood alcohol content of .16 or higher
- A minor below 16 years of age is present in the vehicle at the time of the DWI arrest
- A driving after revocation/suspension if previously canceled inimical to public safety
If you have whiskey plates on your vehicle, expect that you will be watched more closely. Since 2003, Minnesota Supreme Court has no longer allowed law enforcement to stop a vehicle simply on the basis of having whiskey plates.
Although whiskey plates are a way of letting police officers know that the particular vehicle has previously been subjected to at least one DWI stop, officials are only allowed to stop the vehicle should they find a reason to believe that the driver might possibly be drunk (ie: reasonable suspicion) or the driver committed some other traffic related violation. Of course, this means that police officers are likely to use even the smallest of errors to justify a traffic stop.
It is possible, in Minnesota, for you to be ordered to display whiskey plates on your vehicle even if you were not the driver at the time of the DWI arrest. The state’s impoundment order applies to both the DWI offender and the vehicle owner, if they are two different individuals.
If you are a DWI offender that meets the above criteria, you must get whiskey plates on any and all vehicles you own and co-own for at least one year (which is the typical period of plate impoundment). If the vehicle owner differs from the DWI offender, the owner needs to get whiskey plates for just the involved vehicle. All of the owner’s other vehicles are not subject to plate impoundment.
If you did not get stopped for a DWI, you may still have whiskey plates on your vehicle if your spouse or family member was ordered to get them and the car driven during the incident is partially or fully registered in your name as well, or if the DWI arrest occurred in your vehicle, even if you were not the driver.
A vehicle with whiskey plates cannot get new registration plates for at least one year from the date of your impoundment order. If you are both the vehicle owner and the DWI offender, then you will not be issued new registration plates until the state has issued you a valid driver’s license.
If you believe you are innocent, you may opt to file a request for administrative review of license plate impoundment. This request may be granted if the vehicle owner was not present at the time of the DWI, and the offender had a valid driver’s license. Additionally, one can also petition the district court for judicial review of the plate impoundment order.