Written by attorney Maury Devereau Beaulier

Minnesota's License Plate Impoundment Challenges

Under Minnesota law, in certain circumstances including those related to driving without a valid license and DWI offense/Implied Consent violations, the state has the authority to take the license plates off of a motor vehicle and destroy them. This is commonly called an Administrative Plate Impoundment.

Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.60, subd. 2 states that the Commissioner of Public Safety may issue a registration plate impoundment order under these circumstances:

a.) A first offense DWI if the test result is 0.20 or more.

b.) A first offense DWI if there is a passenger in the vehicle under the age of 16.

c.) Any gross misdemeanor or greater DWI offense where the driver has a prior DWI or alcohol-related license revocation, or a test refusal, within the past 10 years.

d.) A violation of Section 171.24 which involves driving without a valid driver’s license by a person whose driver’s license has already been cancelled under Minnesota Statutes for being inimical to public safety.

If the violation is the driver’s second DWI within 10 years, that driver must turn in plates on every vehicle they drive and seek issuance of special series plates.

A license plate may also be impounded under Minnesota Statutes 168.041, Subd. 1:

a.) When a person is convicted of driving a self-propelled motor vehicle after the suspension, revocation, or cancellation of the person's driver's license or driving privileges, the court shall require the registration plates of the self-propelled motor vehicle involved in the violation owned by the person or registered in the person's name to be surrendered to the court. The court shall issue a receipt for the surrendered registration plates.

b.) If the violator is not the owner of the self-propelled motor vehicle, the court shall require the registration plates of the motor vehicle to be surrendered to the court if the vehicle was used by the violator with the permission of the owner and the owner had knowledge of the fact that the violator's driver's license had been revoked or suspended prior to the commission of the offense.

A license plate impoundment order may be issued by the arresting officer. It may also be issued subsequently by the Department of Public Safety and received in the mail. The Order generally will require the individual to surrender the vehicles physical plates to the Department of Public Safety within days and issue a permit for the temporary licensing of the vehicle. This permit will be valid for 7 days if the vehicle is registered to the driver, or 45 days if it is registered to someone else.

If the vehicle must be driven by the registered owner or a family member with a valid license, the State will often allow the owner to acquire special series plateswhich arecommonly called whiskey plates. Such plates usually start with a “W" . The identifiable letters notify officers that the vehicle carrying such plates may be driven by a person with infractions such as multiple DWI offenses. The plates themselves DO NOT provide the officer a basis to stop the vehicle. Such stops were found to be unconstitutional in State. V. Henning, 666 N.W.2d 379 (Minn.2003). However, any small infraction of the law may result in valid stop by officers. It is the equivalent of having a large target drawn on the side of the vehicle for officers to see. The law requires you to have whiskey plates for 1 year past your next renewal period. In other words, if you just renewed your plates you may have them on for nearly two years. As of 2011, the cost for each set of whiskey plates was approximately $57 and a similar cost to remove those plates after the impoundment period.

It is important to note, that a plate impoundment adversely affects the owner’s ability to sell the vehicle. Pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 169A.60 subdivision 14, once a plate impoundment has occurred, the owner may not transfer the title of the vehicle or sell it unless authorized by the Department of Public Safety.

If a vehicle subject to the impound order was not owned by the person driving the care at the time of the offense, a plate impoundment may create great consternation for the vehicle’s owner. The registered owner may file a sworn statement with the Commissioner of Public Safety setting out the facts and requesting new plates. This must be done within seven (7) days of receiving the impoundment order. Generally, it is difficult to prevail on Administrative Review proceedings.

You may also seek a judicial review of the plate impoundment. This means the owner of the vehicle sue the state to seek reinstatement of the impounded plates. This challenge must be filed within thirty (30) days of receiving the plate impoundment notice. Some challenges to the plate impoundment may include:

  1. challenging the underlying infraction (DWI and Implied Consent) resulting in the plate impoundment including;
  2. demonstrating that the driver used our automobile without the owner’s consent;
  3. the driver was validly licensed, had the owner’s consent to drive, but used the vehicle in a manner not consistent with the owner’s consent to violate the law.

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