Minnesota DWI License Plate Impoundment

Another collateral consequence to a DWI in Minnesota is license plate impoundment Unless it was your first-time offense and your alcohol concentration is below .16 or you refused the test a license plate impoundment order will either be issued at the time of the offense giving rise to the impoundment or sent via mail soon thereafter. Plates subject to the impoundment order include the plates of the vehicle used in the commission of the offense, as well as plates for any other vehicles owned by, registered, or leased in the name of the violator, including those registered jointly or leased in the name of the violator and another person. Most times, the plates of the vehicle used in the commission of the offense will be seized by the police at the time of the offense. But, the violator must surrender all applicable plates to the local police, sheriff’s department, or State Patrol, within 7 days after the impoundment order is issued.

There is a temporary vehicle permit for 7 days if the violator is the owner or 45 days if the owner is not the violator to allow time to for the owner to move the vehicle to a safe place off the road while the plates are impounded or until special registration plates (“whiskey plates”) are received.

Administrative Review

At any time during the period of revocation, the owner may request an administrative review of the impoundment. There are two scenarios where an innocent owner may get the plate impoundment order rescinded.

First, the owner must provide a sworn statement (see here for the form) stating that (1) the violator had a valid license at the time of the incident; (2) the owner is the registered owner, and current owner and possessor of the vehicle; (3) the date on which the violator obtained the vehicle from the owner; (4) the addresses of the owner and violator when the vehicle was obtained from the owner; (5) the owner was not a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the incident; and (6) the owner knows the violator may not drive a vehicle without a valid license.

Second, when the violator did not have a valid license at the time of incident, the owner must make a report to local law enforcement before the violation stating that the vehicle was taken from the owner’s possession or was being used without permission. Proof of making this report is necessary. And failing to do so will likely result in the State upholding the plate impoundment, regardless of the owner truly being an innocent owner.

Depending on the case, letters from the owner and violator regarding the circumstances that led to the impoundment order may be beneficial and can be submitted for review.

The commissioner has 15 days following the request to issue its written answer to the request. If you are successful, the commissioner will rescind the plate impoundment order and authorize the issuance of new plates to the registered owner at no cost, so long as the registered owners driving privileges were not revoked as a result of a plate impoundment violation.

Judicial Review

An owner may also petition the court for judicial review of the plate impoundment order. This must be done within 30 days of receipt of the notice of the order for impoundment. And this can occur simultaneous to a request for administrative review.

The petition must include your full name, date of birth, driver’s license number, date of the plate impoundment violation, name of the violator, and the law enforcement agency that issued the plate impoundment order. The petition must specify the grounds upon which the petitioner seeks rescission of the plate impoundment order. And it must include proof of service of a copy of the petition on the commissioner.

Grounds for the petition are limited to certain issues, listed in Minn. Stat. 169A.60, subd. 10(c). Generally speaking, the issues include, but are not limited to: whether there is a legal basis for the plate impoundment, whether the officer had a basis to perform a stop, and whether the officer had probable cause to effect the arrest..

The judicial review hearing must be held at the same time as any judicial review of the person’s license revocation, if there is one. Importantly, the filing of the petition for judicial review does not stay the impoundment order, unless the hearing is not conducted within 60 days after the filing of the petition for judicial review. The court has 14 days following the hearing to issue its order.

Whiskey Plates

While the plate impoundment order is in effect, the registered owner of the vehicle may apply for special registration plates – commonly referred to as “Whiskey Plates” because they have a special series of numbers or letters that make them readily identifiable to police officers. Whiskey Plates are essentially available when the registered owner or violator has driving privileges during the impoundment period. There is a $50 fee for these plates.

Sale of Vehicle Subject to Plate Impoundment Order

There are restrictions on a registered owners ability to sell a vehicle subject to the plate impoundment order. The following must be demonstrated to the commissioner in order for the sale to be valid:

  1. The sale is for valid consideration;
  2. The purchaser is not a family or household member of the registered owner;
  3. The purchaser signs a sworn statement with the commissioner stating:
    1. The purchaser is not a family or household member of the violator;
    2. The purchaser understands that the vehicle is subject to the impoundment order; and
    3. The purchaser understand that it is a crime to file a false statement or to allow the previous registered owner to drive, operate, or be in control of the vehicle during the impoundment period; and
  4. All elements of Minn. Stat. 168A.10 (transfer of interest by owner) are satisfied.

Penalties for Violations

It is a misdemeanor crime to (1) fail to comply with the impoundment order in any manner; (2) file a false statement, as described above; (3) operate a vehicle subject to the plate impoundment order without special registration plates; (4) fail to notify the commissioner of the impoundment order when requesting new plates; (5) operate any vehicle during the impoundment period if the defendant is subject to a plate impoundment order, unless the vehicle is employer-owned and is not required to be equipped with an ignition interlock device, or has special registration plates, and the person is valid to drive; or (6) to allow the previous registered owner to operate the vehicle after purchase and signing a sworn statement, as described above.

For more on Minnesota’s DWI law, click here.