Whiskey Plates – or Not?  When charged with a DUI in Minnesota, you face “collateral” consequences even before you are convicted – during that time of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Your driver’s license will be revoked.  In certain first-time situations or subsequent offenses, your license plates may be impounded or your vehicle forfeited to the State.  If your plates are impounded, you may need to get “special registration plates,” often called “whiskey plates,” on any car registered under your name during the period of impoundment.  These plates typically start with the letter W so that they can be easily identified by law enforcement officers.  If you have Whiskey plates on your vehicle, then you will probably be watched more closely by law enforcement, although in 2003, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement cannot stop a vehicle solely because of having whiskey plates.  (See State v. Henning, 666 N.W.2d 379 (Minn. 2003).)

A judge can order a person to obtain Whiskey plates in certain situations, including:

  • For a first-time DUI offense:
    • With a blood alcohol concentration over 0.16;
    • With a child under age 16 in the vehicle;
    • As a commercial driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more within 10 years of a previous DUI conviction.
  • Two DUIs within 10 years.
  • A conviction for operating a vehicle on a license cancelled as inimical to public safety.

See Minn. Stat. 169A.60 subd. 1.

Even if someone else was driving your vehicle, if one of the above situations applies, then your plates may be ordered to be impounded.  In this case, you, as the registered owner, can apply for the original plates to be returned.  You will need to provide a sworn statement that you are the owner of the vehicle and that the driver had a valid driver’s license, or that you reported the vehicle stolen.

A vehicle with Whiskey plates cannot get new registration plates for at least one year from the date of the plate impoundment order.

However, a new law which took effect in Minnesota in the summer of 2021 allows people to avoid Whiskey plates if they do two things:

  • First, the vehicle owner needs to register with the Ignition Interlock Program through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (or DMV).  The vehicle owner will need the interlock device installed in each of the vehicles of which he is an owner or co-owner.  This device requires a driver to provide breath samples basically free of alcohol, or with extremely low levels only, before the car will start.
  • Second, the vehicle owner must pay $100 for each vehicle that is under the impoundment order.

Once these things are done, the Department of Public Safety must issue new registration plates (not whiskey plates) for any vehicle owned by the affected person.

So essentially, once you can verify that you have enrolled in Ignition Interlock, you can avoid the Whiskey plates, and your spouse or family who drives your vehicles will also be able to avoid driving a car with Whiskey plates.

Alternatively, if you do not want to participate in Ignition Interlock, you can still follow the old path and get the special registration, or Whiskey plates.  In this case, you must pay $50 for each special plate, and at the end of the plate impoundment time, pay $50 more to get a regular plate again.  A third option is available if you have Whiskey plates (that you got for $50 each) but want to change those at any time during the period of impoundment.  In this case, you can get Ignition Interlock installed and acknowledged, then get regular plates for $50 each.  So the out of pocket cost of newly obtaining regular plates totals $100 in each situation.  (There is an additional fee for the installation and use of Ignition Interlock, however.)

See Minn. Stat. 169A.60, subd. 13, revised and enacted during the 2021 1st Special Session, for the new legal language regarding special registration plates.

If you have been charged with a DUI, or if you have questions regarding license plate or vehicle impoundment, please contact us at Wilson Law Group for a free consultation.