Being convicted of a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) under Minnesota law can be a traumatic experience. But the requirement that your automobile or other vehicle be fitted with what are commonly referred to as “Whiskey Plates” under Minnesota Whiskey Plates law can add to the trauma. Minnesota whiskey plates law can be difficult and often seemingly unfair. This is particularly true if you are the innocent owner of the vehicle and some other driver was convicted of the DWI. What are Whiskey Plates? How do I get them? How do I get rid of them? What are Minnesota Whiskey Plates?
What are Minnesota Whiskey Plates?
Simply put, Minnesota Whiskey Plates are special license plates that replace your impounded regular plates after a DWI. The impoundment order applies to the vehicle in which the DWI was committed even if the owner of the vehicle was not the driver. (The non-DWI driver owner is known as the “innocent owner.”) If the owner of the vehicle was convicted of the DWI, that vehicle and any other vehicle he owns must display Minnesota Whiskey Plates during the period when the regular plates are impounded; which is usually a year. In the case of an innocent owner, only the vehicle in which the offense took place must display the Minnesota Whiskey Plates. We explain below how an innocent owner can rid himself or herself of the stigma of Minnesota Whiskey Plates through administrative or legal action. It is a misdemeanor to drive a vehicle that is required to display Minnesota Whiskey Plates without doing so.
How Are License Plates Impounded?
Under Minnesota Whiskey Plates law, license plates can be impounded immediately by the arresting officer. The officer will issue a temporary permit that is valid for seven days if the violator is the owner of the vehicle or for forty-five days if the violator is not the owner of the vehicle. It is at this point under Minnesota Whiskey Plates laws that the owner will apply for Minnesota Whiskey Plates.
Whiskey Plates States
Minnesota is one of only two states that has a Whiskey Plates statute; the other is Ohio, which requires Whiskey Plates following any DWI conviction. Other states have tried to impose Whiskey Plates laws – such as Oregon and Washington – but Minnesota and Ohio are only two states that have these laws in place at this time. Perhaps the small number of states that have Whiskey Plate laws is a result of the fact that there are Constitutional law questions about the validity of these laws. As we discuss below, one aspect of the Minnesota Whiskey Plates law has already been declared unconstitutional by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Administrative Review of Plate Impoundment; Judicial Review of Plate Impoundment
If the legitimate owner of the vehicle in which the DWI took place was not present at the time of the incident (if the owner was not the driver but was a passenger there is a problem), and where the offender had a valid driver’s license, the innocent owner can request an administrative review of the impoundment of his or her original plates. We can walk you through this process. Under Minnesota Whiskey Plates law, if the administrative review is successful, the original plates will be returned. Under Minnesota Whiskey Plates law there is an additional circumstance under which the innocent owner can get his or her regular plates back under Minnesota Whiskey Plates law: if the vehicle was stolen by the driver who committed the DWI and if the true owner reported the theft before the DWI took place. If the administrative review fails and the owner of the vehicle wishes to fight the impoundment in state district court, the vehicle owner must file a petition within sixty days of the event under Minnesota Whiskey Plates law. Generally speaking, a challenge to the impoundment and Whiskey Plates will be in conjunction with an attack on the initial revocation of the driver’s license. This can be a complicated procedure but we can help you through it.
Minnesota Whiskey Plates Letters
Whiskey Plates are easily spotted by law enforcement officers because the plates all start with the letter “W” (hence the Whiskey name), followed by a second letter and four numbers. As a result, anyone driving a car with Whiskey Plates is subject to increased scrutiny by law enforcement officers, even if, as we have explained above, he or she was not even the party guilty of the DWI. It is important to note that doing nothing but driving with Whiskey Plates alone cannot give law enforcement authorities the power to pull over a driver under Minnesota Whiskey Plates laws. The State of Minnesota actually intended that the plates would give law enforcement officials the absolute right to pull over a driver who had done absolutely nothing wrong under Minnesota Whiskey Plates laws, but the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a strong “no” in a 2003 case holding the law unconstitutional. Nevertheless, drivers with Whiskey Plates will be subject to heightened scrutiny by law enforcement officers, whether fair or not. Further, many Minnesotans will be aware of what the “W” means, and this can be an embarrassment in the carpool lane or at the youth soccer field. But, as we have noted, it is a misdemeanor not to display the plates if they are required by Minnesota DWI law, so any attempt to avoid the stigma can result in trouble.
What Does WX mean on a Minnesota License Plate?
As we explained earlier, under Minnesota law, drivers convicted of certain DWI-related offenses are subject to having their license plates impounded, but may be allowed to drive with “Whiskey Plates,” pursuant to Minnesota Statutes 169A.60 or 168.041. As we have noted, if the owner of the vehicle was convicted of the DWI, that vehicle and any other vehicle he owns must display Minnesota Whiskey Plates during the period when the regular plates are impounded; which is typically one year. Also as we have explained, in the case of an “innocent owner” (meaning the owner of the vehicle who was not the driver guilty of the DWI), only the vehicle in which the offense took place must display the Minnesota Whiskey Plates. The plates are known as “Whiskey Plates” because the first letter on the plate is always a “W.” The W is followed by a second letter and then four numbers. Thus, the Whiskey Plates can begin with WR, WS, WT, WX, WY, or WZ. Regardless of the second letter and whatever the four numbers are, law enforcement personnel see the first letter – W – and know what that means. As we have noted, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the police cannot stop a driver solely because of the Whiskey Plates, but the fact that a car has the Whiskey Plates can be a factor in deciding whether or not to stop a vehicle.
Minnesota Whiskey Plates and the MN Ignition Interlock Program
We have previously described the Minnesota Ignition Interlock Program. You can read about it here: [insert link here] But in summary, under the ignition interlock Minnesota program, an ignition interlock device is a system that is installed in the car of a driver convicted of DWI to prevent future drinking and driving. It consists of a mouthpiece, a handheld device, and a cord connecting the device to the car’s ignition. It also includes a camera that is attached to the dashboard. The camera is aimed at the driver and assures that someone else other than the driver does not blow into the mouthpiece. Simply put, the driver blows into the device, it determines the driver’s Breath Alcohol Concentration and if the alcohol percentage is below Minnesota’s impaired limit it allows the car to start. If the driver fails the test the car will not start until a successful test is completed. Under the Minnesota Whiskey Plates laws, if a driver participates in the ignition interlock program, he will still probably be required to drive with the Whiskey Plates for a full year.
Minnesota Whiskey Plates Cost
Minnesota charges $57 for each set of Whiskey Plates. Remember that a DWI offender that owns multiple vehicles may be required to have Whiskey Plates each of his or her vehicles. In addition, Minnesota will charge $57 to remove each set of plates when the period in which the regular plates are impounded is concluded. These costs do not include any increases in your car insurance resulting from the DWI. In addition, these costs do not include the legal fees involved in seeking administrative or judicial removal of the Whiskey Plates.
What Offenses Result in Plate Impoundment and Whiskey Plates Under Minnesota Whiskey Plate Laws?
You may be required to display Minnesota Whiskey plates for the following offenses:
- Any DWI with a blood alcohol percentage of 0.16% based on an official breath, blood or urine test. This does not include a field preliminary blood test. As we have explained in a previous post, under Minnesota DWI Law a Preliminary Breath Test (known as a PBT) is administered by a police officer when a suspected DWI driver is pulled over. It is important to note that a PBT can be used as the basis for arrest, but cannot be used as evidence in a subsequent criminal trial. [insert link here]
- A DWI or a refusal to take a test of your blood alcohol percentage within ten years of a prior DWI.
- A DWI or a refusal to take a test of your blood alcohol percentage where there is a child under the age of sixteen in the vehicle and the child is more than thirty-six months younger than the driver.
- Commission of a DWI for a commercial driver (where the limit is 0.04%) within ten years of a prior DWI conviction.
- Driving (even without any alcohol violation) where the driver’s license was revoked, suspended or cancelled because the driver’s license was cancelled for what is known as “IPS,” which stands for “Inimical to Public Safety” based upon three DWI convictions in ten years or four offenses in a lifetime.
Selling a Car with Minnesota Whiskey Plates
Yes, you can sell a car with Minnesota Whiskey Plates, but there can be some complications. It is best to involve an attorney in the transaction. If you are planning to replace the car you are selling with another car the Whiskey Plates will be transferred to your new vehicle for the duration of the period for which you are required to display Whiskey Plates. A greater complication occurs if, in a worst case scenario, the driver may be forced to forfeit the vehicle. This can occur after a “designated offense,” such as a third DWI violating within a ten-year period or even a second or first-time violation with aggravating factors. If the arresting officer seizes the vehicle, prosecutors will serve notice of their intent to forfeit to the owner(s). The owner(s) will have sixty days to appeal the forfeiture in Minnesota civil court. If the vehicle is worth less than $15,000 the case will be adjudicated in small claims court. Not only will this mean that if the car is forfeited of course you won’t be able to sell it, but it also means that you face a significant legal action and need our professional help to resolve it. If you do not take action against the forfeiture your vehicle will be automatically taken away. Note, however, that in the case of an owner of multiple vehicles only the vehicle involved in the DWI will be taken. Adding insult to injury, if there is a lienholder on the vehicle (a lease or remaining payments in the case of a sale) the vehicle may be sold and the proceeds will go to the lien holder. You may still be liable for payments on a car you no longer own. As you can see, this is a very serious matter and requires quick legal action to avoid very nasty consequences.
How Can We Help?
Minnesota Whiskey Plates laws can seem complicated and daunting. Driving with Minnesota Whiskey Plates can be embarrassing and can result in excessive stops by law enforcement officers (which may not necessarily be legal). As Minnesota’s top criminal defense and DWI specialists we can help you with issues such as navigating the Minnesota Whiskey Plates process, having Minnesota Whiskey Plates removed and selling a vehicle that has Whiskey Plates.