License Plate Impoundment Procedure in Minnesota Following a DWI


Under Minnesota Statute section 168.041, the state may seize, retain, and destroy a motorist’s license plates for repeated DWIs, sobriety test refusals, or other DWI-related offenses. Called impoundment, this process occurs if a motorist is caught driving a motor vehicle after revocation, cancellation, or suspension of his/her driver’s license and/or driving privileges.

During an arrest, the arresting officer(s), acting on behalf of the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), may directly issue an impound order. Following plate impoundment, the officer(s) will also issue a permit for temporary vehicle licensing—whiskey plates—so the vehicle is operable while under the impound order.

These unique “whiskey plates” are a type of restricted license plates found only on vehicles that are subject to license plate impoundment and that are owned or co-owned by a DWI offender who legally retained his/her driving privileges during the impoundment period.

What Can Trigger License Plate Impoundment?

Situations that can trigger impoundment include:

  • Two DWIs in ten (10) years
  • Any DWI in which the driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .16 or greater
  • Multiple DWIs
  • Refusal to submit to a breath sobriety test
  • Any DWI or test refusal within ten (10) years of a prior DWI conviction or driver’s license revocation
  • Any DWI or test refusal when a child under the age of 16 is in the vehicle at the time of the alleged offense
  • Driving after having one’s driver’s license canceled as inimical to public safety (IPS)
  • Other reasons deemed appropriate by the court

Whiskey Plates

These restricted plates are called whiskey plates because they begin with the letter “W” and in the NATO/military phonetic alphabet, the letter “W” stands for “whiskey.” After the initial “W”, these silver plates with blue lettering have another letter and four (4) numbers. Whiskey plates serve to alert everyone to the fact that the driver has one or more DWI convictions.

Whiskey plates are issued if the driver obtains a limited driver’s license and applies for said plates and/or the driver has another person in the household with a valid driver’s license who needs to drive the vehicle. Offenders enrolled in the ignition interlock device (IID) program must also display whiskey plates on their vehicles during the impoundment period.

Failure to have whiskey plates on any vehicle subject to plate impoundment is illegal in Minnesota.

As of June 2012, the number of restricted license plates in Minnesota exceeded 16,000.

In addition to Minnesota, only Ohio and Washington use restricted plates.

How Long Are Plates Usually Impounded?

The usual period of impoundment is one (1) year plus any additional time that the driver failed to have a valid driver’s license.

Law Enforcement and Whiskey Plates

In 2003, the Minnesota Supreme Court invalidated a law that permitted police to stop any vehicle with restricted plates simply to check the driver’s lawful ability to drive. The court held this law unconstitutional in that whereas it may be acceptable as one factor in an otherwise valid police stop, said plates cannot serve as the sole reason for a traffic stop.

Fees for Whiskey Plates

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) charges $57 per vehicle for restricted plates. An additional $57 fee occurs when it is time to remove these plates after the impoundment period expires.

Innocent Owners and Request for Judicial Review

In some cases, a DWI offender is not the vehicle’s owner. Provided the actual owner had neither prior knowledge that the offender would drive his/her vehicle without a license or under the influence nor was present in the vehicle at the time, the owner has the right to request an administrative review of the impoundment.

Any challenge of a license plate impoundment requires the owner to complete and Implied Consent Petition within 30 days of receiving the impoundment notice. In many cases, challenges to license plate impoundment accompany similar challenges to driver’s license revocation.

For more information, or if you or someone you love is facing license plate impoundment or any other DWI-related offense, please contact us.

Related Posts
  • Field Sobriety Tests in Minnesota: How They Work and What to Know Read More
  • Why is Memorial Day the Start of MN's 100 Deadliest Days? Read More
  • BWIs: Staying Safe on the Water Read More