When a driver is convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), not only will their license be revoked, but their license plates may be impounded as well. Special registration plates, often referred to as “whiskey plates,” are required following the impoundment of the driver’s original license plates.
The plates consist of the letter “W” followed by another character and four numbers on a white background.
In Minnesota, drivers with a valid driver’s license who have been convicted of a DUI and whose license plates have been impounded will be required to place special registration plates on any cars registered under their name.
A judge can order the offender to obtain whiskey plates if they have received:
License plates cannot be impounded If the driver is operating a rental vehicle that is rented for less than 30 days or if the vehicle is registered in another state.
If someone is charged with a DUI while operating a vehicle that isn’t theirs, the registered owner can apply for the original plates to be returned. This will only happen if the registered owner makes a sworn statement that they are the owner of the vehicle and the driver had a valid driver’s license, or that they reported the car stolen.
Drivers register for whiskey plates by filling out forms at their local Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) location.
It costs $50 to get the plates put on your vehicle, and another $50 to get the plates off of your vehicle.
Law enforcement cannot legally stop a vehicle solely because it has whiskey plates. Although the plates are intended to make it easier for officers to spot drivers with past DUI convictions, it was ruled unconstitutional in 2003 by the Minnesota Supreme Court for an officer to stop a driver solely on this basis. However, officers may be more inclined to stop a driver for small infractions if their vehicle has restricted use plates.
The most obvious consequence of having whiskey plates is that everyone will be made aware of the DUI infractions the driver has incurred. The main purpose of the plates is to raise law enforcement awareness of drivers with a history of infractions.
Another consequence is that anyone else who drives the offender’s car will be subject to the plates. Even if the car is given to another family member or changes ownership, as long as it is registered under the name of the person who got a DUI, it will have to bear the whiskey plates until the allotted time is up. Under Minnesota law, one cannot avoid the whiskey plates by simply selling or transferring the plates to a family or household member.
Many officials in Minnesota have vocalized the fact that whiskey plates only serve as a form of public shaming. Since drivers with whiskey plates cannot be pulled over purely on the fact that they have whiskey plates, the plates don’t effectively stop previous offenders from committing a repeat offense.
The law requires whiskey plates on a vehicle for a minimum of one year past the date of the offense or until the driver’s license is valid again.
In 2020, Rep. Kelly Moller and Sen. Ron Latz proposed legislation that eliminates whiskey plates in favor of an expanded ignition interlock program. Recently, the Minnesota Legislature passed a new law that gives people an option to bypass whiskey plates if they enroll in an ignition interlock program.
An ignition interlock system consists of a breathalyzer attached to the ignition that stops the driver’s car from turning over if it detects a blood alcohol content above .02.
In order to enroll in the ignition interlock program, drivers must do two things:
An ignition interlock system is a better public safety alternative to whiskey plates because it is a true deterrent that will prevent repeat offenders from getting on the road if they are under the influence. The previous method of using whiskey plates only identified those guilty of a DWI but never prevented drunk driving.
Current whiskey plate holders can make the change over to the ignition interlock program but will have to pay $100.00 for a new license plate for each vehicle that is under the impoundment order. If you already paid $50 towards the whiskey plates that you have, then the DMV should give you credit for that payment towards the $100 fee.
Before removing any license plates from your vehicles, confirm with the DMV that you are legally allowed to do so.
If a DUI arrest occurred in your vehicle but you were not driving, you could still be ordered to obtain whiskey plates, so be careful who you let drive your car and make sure they have a valid driver's license and no history of DUIs. If your car is registered or partially registered under someone else’s name and they receive a DUI, you may also be required to obtain whiskey plates.
If you’ve been ordered by a judge to put whiskey plates on your car, you have 60 days after the impoundment to request a driver’s license hearing with the MN Department of Public Safety.
To get started talking with an experienced DUI lawyer, contact our office to set up a free initial consultation.
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