Whiskey Plates Can’t Be the Only Reason a Driver is Stopped
When an driver has had two or more DUIs in a ten year period, tested with a BAC of .20 or more, refused testing, or had a child in the car he or she may end up with something called special series license plates, or “Whiskey Plates” on his or her vehicle. These special plates may be issued under Minn.Stat. §168.041, subd. 6, in the following circumstances: if a member of the violator’s household has a valid driver’s license, the violator or owner has a limited license issued under section 171.30, or the owner is not the violator and the owner has a valid or limited license or a member of the owner’s household has a valid driver’s license.
Until 2003, law enforcement officers could perform an investigatory stop – or pull over – any vehicle being driven on Minnesota’s roadways if that vehicle had Whiskey Plates, whether or not the driver had done anything wrong. This was because of Minnesota Statute §168.0422, which provides: A peace officer who observes the operation of a motor vehicle within this state bearing special series registration plates issued under section 168.041, subdivision 6, or 169A.60, subdivision 13, may stop the vehicle for the purpose of determining whether the driver is operating the vehicle lawfully under a valid driver’s license.
However, in State v. Henning, a case decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court in July of 2003, Minnesota Statute §168.0422 was found unconstitutional.
Minnesota Statutes §168.0422 was originally passed by the legislature in order to authorize the stops prohibited by the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling in a 1995 case entitled State v. Greyeagle, in which the Appellate Court ruled that police may not make suspicionless stops of drivers based solely on special series registration plates, where the statute creating the special plates does not provide that the plates are issued under that condition. So, the legislature enacted § 168.0422 to allow law enforcement officers to do precisely what the Appellate Court had said they couldn’t do without a special law specifically allowing it.
In 2003, in Henning, the State argued that § 168.0422 was constitutional because by applying for the special series or Whiskey Plates, the driver had given something akin to implied consent and acknowledged that the police would be legally able to stop his vehicle at any time for no other reason than that he had special series plates. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed, and said:
“The special series registration plates are only issued upon a showing that someone will be legally driving the vehicle bearing those plates. This person may be the violator, who may be issued a limited license to drive under certain circumstances, such as attending work or school… However, the special series plates are also issued where someone other than the violator, either a member of the violator’s household or someone else identified to the commissioner of public safety, will be lawfully driving the vehicle. These qualified, licensed drivers of the specially registered vehicles are also subject to the possibility of numerous stops made each and every day, pursuant to Minn.Stat. §168.0422, solely on account of driving a motor vehicle bearing special series registration plates. Thus, Minn.Stat. §168.0422 subjects a number of licensed motorists, who were not party to the original revocation of the registration plates or the subsequent reissuing of the special series plates, to the possibility of being stopped by every law enforcement officer they encounter.”
For the same reason that road blocks as sobriety check points are unconstitutional in Minnesota, stopping cars for no reason other than that they have special series plates is unconstitutional: The Minnesota State Constitution, Article I, Section 10 states that police must have an objective, individualized articulable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing before they are able to stop a driver because that stop is a search and/or seizure under both the State and Federal constitutions.
You can read the full text of the Supreme Court’s opinion at:http://caselaw.findlaw.com/mn-supreme-court/1324139.html