License Plate Impoundment in Minnesota

The state of Minnesota, in certain situations, has the authority under Minnesota Law to take the license plates from a vehicle and destroy them.  This is known as license plate impoundment.  But why and how does license plate impoundment happen?  And, perhaps most importantly, how can one defend oneself if it does happen?


License plate impoundment laws have changed drastically in the last decade in Minnesota.  Anyone who has had his or her license plates impounded has experienced first-hand how expensive, complicated and administratively frustrating this process can be.  In this article, we will expand on our September 24, 2009 blog post, available at, by guiding you through the current laws in Minnesota that govern license plate impoundment, including the strict and unforgiving statute of limitations regarding challenging license plate impoundment, as well as outline some of the collateral effects and hidden costs that are associated with license plate impoundment so that should license plate impoundment happen to you or someone you know, you can be prepared to make good decisions quickly about potentially challenging the impoundment order.

A.     When Does Impoundment Happen?


Plate impoundment is triggered in a number of situations. One common situation that triggers impoundment is whenever a gross misdemeanor level DUI/DWI offense is committed - this could be a first time DUI with one or more aggravating factors present such as a a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle at the time of the offense, it could be a second DUI in a ten year period, or it could be a driving after cancellation/suspension/revocation offense, also known as DAC, DAS and DAR. The statutes that govern when impoundment is triggered are Minnesota Statutes sections 168.041 (when an individual is arrested for DAS, DAR or DAC,), and 169A.60 subdivision 1(d)(1), (when an individual is arrested for certain DWI/DUI offenses). Minnesota Statute section 168.042 was changed significantly in 1998 and finally repealed in 2000; now the law states under Minnesota Statute 160A that prior alcohol-related driver's license revocations count as prior DUI/DWI's for the purpose of determining whether license plate impoundment is triggered. Lastly, effective as of July 1st, 2011, a first time DWI offender with a BAC of .16 or more will now also be subject to plate impoundment.


Statute 169A.60 further states that impoundment can be triggered by DUI test refusal in combination with any other one aggravating factor.  Plate impoundment is also triggered whenever related offenses from other states contribute to a gross misdemeanor level offense in Minnesota.  Even though related offenses from other states can be used to trigger plate impoundment, license plate impoundment under Minnesota Law can only happen to Minnesota licensed vehicles.

B.     How Does Impoundment Work?


Regardless of what the situation is that triggers impoundment, it usually begins with the arresting officer issuing an impound order directly to the individual arrested.  The arresting officer will issue along with the impound order a temporary licensing permit for the vehicle – this permit is valid for seven days if the vehicle is owned by the driver, and for 45 days if the vehicle is owned by someone else.  This permit enables the owner to drive the vehicle during the permit’s valid period.


Impoundment lasts for a minimum of 1 year, at the end of which time new plates may be applied for and received for the vehicle.


Once an impoundment order has been issued for a vehicle, there are many collateral effects and hidden costs to the impoundment that the vehicle’s owner and/or driver will likely have to face.


C.     Collateral Effects and Hidden Costs of License Plate Impoundment: Why Challenging Impoundment May Be in Your Best Interests


If a vehicle’s plates have been impounded, it is not only the individual who primarily drives the vehicle and was driving it during the violation who is affected: Everyone in that individual’s household is affected by the loss of drivability of that vehicle.  If the driver applies for and receives a limited driver’s license, he or she can apply for and receive temporary license plates.  Additionally, temporary plates can be applied for and received if there is a validly licensed driver in the offending driver’s household, or the offending driver has a properly licensed substitute driver for the vehicle.  These plates have certain letters in the plate number, usually a “WY” or “WX”; these plates are often referred to as “whiskey plates”.


One of the most common defenses in any alcohol-related driving case is for a Minnesota DUI lawyer to challenge the cause for the stop, to see if the arresting officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle and administer field sobriety tests, or arrest the individual for DUI/DWI.  However, if a vehicle has Whiskey plates, under Minnesota Statute 168.0422, police officers have the right to stop any vehicle with these plates at any time, for no other specific reason than to see if the vehicle is being operated lawfully under a valid driver’s license – regardless of who is driving the vehicle at the time, whether it is the original offender, or a member of his or her family who has permission to drive the vehicle.  Having whiskey plates makes a vehicle subject to random police stops; needless to say, this can be an inconvenience or worse.


Another fact regarding plate impoundment that it is important to remember is that if a driver’s offense triggers plate impoundment, the license plates for every vehicle that driver owns, leases or has registered in his or her name will also be impounded – not just the plates on the vehicle that he or she was driving when the offense was committed.


An additional consequence of plate impoundment that can occur is vehicle forfeiture.  According to Minnesota Statute section 169A.63, there are five basic circumstances under which a vehicle is subject to forfeiture in addition to plate impoundment.  Those five are: A first degree DUI or test refusal; a second degree DUI or test refusal; a third degree DUI with test refusal; a DUI or refusal violation while the violator’s driver’s license is cancelled as Inimical to Public Safety; or a DUI or test refusal while the violator is operating the vehicle with a B card driver’s license restriction.  If a vehicle is forfeited, the only way to challenge the forfeiture is by filing a civil motion, in District Court (if the value of the vehicle is greater than $7,500), within 30 days of notice of the forfeiture, and providing in the motion very specific information and documentation.


Furthermore, plate impoundment can adversely affect the owner’s ability to sell the vehicle.  According to Minnesota Statute section 169A.60 subdivision 14, unless certain restrictive circumstances are met, a vehicle cannot be sold or transferred while its plates are impounded or it has whiskey plates.


Finally, according to Minnesota Statute 169A.37, an individual can end up being charged with additional crimes if he or she does not comply with an impoundment order, files a false statement in an effort to receive whiskey plates, operates a vehicle with impounded plates on a street or highway, or operates any other vehicle during the impoundment period except the vehicle with the impounded plates if whiskey plates have been applied for and received.  It is also a crime for anyone to sign a sworn statement under Statute 169A.60 and allow a vehicle to be transferred to him or her so that he or she can then allow the registered owner and violator to drive, operate or be in control of that vehicle during the impoundment period.


D.    Challenging Impoundment: Your How-To Guide


Challenging an impoundment order is complicated and requires quick thinking, a lot of patience and professional guidance.


In order to challenge an impoundment order, the challenger has only 30 days from the date of receiving the notice and order of impoundment to contest the impoundment.  There is no grace period, and there are no exceptions.


If the vehicle for which an impoundment order has been issued is owned by someone other than the driver who committed the offense triggering impoundment, the owner can challenge the impoundment order by filing a sworn affidavit with the Commissioner of Public Safety, detailing the circumstances under which the vehicle was driven and requesting new, non-whiskey plates be issued for the vehicle. 


If an impoundment order was issued by mistake or issued to a vehicle owned by someone other than the driver, and a challenge is desired, within 30 days of receiving notice of the impoundment, an individual can begin the process for challenging the impoundment either in court, in front of a judge, or through a paperwork process, known as an administrative review.  Administrative reviews are very difficult to win; a Minnesota DUI lawyer will usually recommend a judicial hearing.


License plate impoundment is frustrating, confusing and expensive.  But by hiring a Minnesota DUI lawyer, the process of navigating a license plate impoundment and potentially challenging the impoundment doesn’t have to be faced alone.


Call (952) 835-6314 today for a free consultation.

Read Our Blog


Home     |     Firm Overview     |     Practice Areas     |     Legal Resources     |     Previous Cases     |     Testimonials     |     Contact Us

Minnesota DUI Attorney    /      Minneapolis DWI Attorney     /      Contact Us     /      Testimonials     /      DWI & DUI Cases
     Site Map     /      Criminal Attorney     /      Legal Resources /      DWI Minnesota     /      Press Releases     /      Hidden Costs of DUI

Copyright 2013 - Kans Law Firm LLC - Leading Minnesota law firm concentrating in cases such as DWI, assault, embezzlement, drug crimes
drug possession, drug-sales, felony, misdemeanor, probation-violation, sex crimes, theft & fraud, theft & fraud, white-collar-crimes & more.
The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Kans Law Firm LLC Minneapolis DWI Attorney
3800 American Boulevard West #997 Bloomington, MN 55431
Latitude: 44.8566294 Longitude: -93.3278275
Phone: (952) 835-6314