What Are Whiskey Plates in Minnesota?

Minnesota Statutes require certain DWI offenders to replace their impounded license plates with special restricted use “whiskey plates” on all vehicles they own or intend to drive during the impound period.

What are Whiskey Plates?

Minnesota has strict laws related to DWI offenses. One of those laws requires the use of “whiskey plates” on all vehicles involved in a DWI offense where license plates are impounded. If a driver is arrested and charged with DWI, his/her vehicle license plates may be impounded for a period of one year or more, depending on the offense. During that period, the DWI offender, as well as the vehicle owner, must use special registration license plates called “whiskey plates.”

Whiskey plates are easy to recognize by law enforcement officials because they have unique characteristics. Plates begin with the letter “W” followed by a second letter and four numbers. These special plates must be placed on all vehicles the DWI offender owns, co-owns, or intends to drive. If the vehicle owner is not the DWI offender, he/she must still obtain “whiskey plates” for the vehicle under “innocent owner” status, even if he/she has never been involved in a DWI accident.

If a DWI offender owns or co-owns multiple vehicles, he/she must obtain whiskey plates for all vehicles that are to be driven during the impound period.  According to Minnesota Statutes, it is a misdemeanor offense for anyone to drive a vehicle subject to impounded plates without obtaining and displaying whiskey plates, even an innocent vehicle owner or driver.

What DWI Offenses Require Impounded Plates?

Minnesota drivers convicted of a DWI will be required to place special whiskey plates on any cars registered under their name. DWI offenses apply to drivers with a valid driver’s license and whose license plates have been impounded. DWI offenses that require whiskey plates include:

1. Conviction of a DWI offense with an alcohol concentration of level of 0.16 or more as measured by an official Intoxilyzer breath test, blood test, or urine test.

2. Conviction of a DWI offense or law enforcement test refusal within 10 years of a prior DWI conviction or DWI license revocation.

3. Conviction of a DWI offense or test refusal if a child under age 16 is in the vehicle, or if the child is more than three years younger than the offender.

4. Conviction of a DWI offense for a driver with a commercial license with an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or more within 10 years of a prior DWI conviction or DWI license revocation.

5. Driving of a vehicle after driver’s license cancellation, suspension, or revocation. This applies to any driver who has a canceled driver’s license due to three DWI offenses within 10 years, or four or more DWI offenses within his/her lifetime.

Drivers who fall into these categories must apply for whiskey plates through a local Minnesota DMV location. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety charges a vehicle owner approximately $57 for each set of whiskey plates, as well as another $57 to remove the plates when the impound period ends.


  • If the vehicle involved in a DWI accident is a rental or registered in another state, vehicle license plates can not be impounded.
  • If the vehicle is not registered to the driver, the registered owner can apply for the regular plates to be returned, if he/she makes a sworn statement that he/she is the owner of the vehicle, and the driver had a valid driver’s license at the time of the accident.
  • The car involved in the DWI accident was reported stolen by the owner.

Drivers who wish to challenge license plate impoundment may file a petition for judicial review within 60 days of receiving an impound notice. A Minnesota criminal defense lawyer can file the petition in district court. In many cases, a criminal defense lawyer will file a judicial challenge to plate impoundment and driver’s license revocation together. 

What are the Consequences of Whiskey Plates?

Whiskey plates help Minnesota law enforcement identify drivers with multiple DWI convictions. Police officers are not permitted to stop drivers with whiskey plates, based on plates alone without another reason. However, plates do act as red flags for previous DWI convictions.

When a vehicle has whiskey plates, other drivers are also aware of DWI infractions. Any driver who drives the vehicle will be subject to the plates. Even if the vehicle is given to another family member or changes ownership, whiskey plates will be mandatory until the impoundment period ends. Under Minnesota laws, whiskey plates can’t be avoided by simply transferring the vehicle to a different person or selling the vehicle. Whiskey plates must remain on the DWI-related vehicle as long as it is registered to the DWI offender or the state ordered impoundment period ends.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.
Minnesota recently passed a public safety bill that brings sweeping changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. While minors sometimes run afoul of the law, the juvenile justice system seeks to account for the differences between children and adults. Therefore, while the penalties for adults convicted of crimes focus on punishment, those for juveniles are aimed at diversion and restorative practices.