Plate Impoundment in Minnesota

Under certain circumstances the state has the authority to take the license plates off of a motor vehicle and destroy them. This is referred to as license plate impoundment.

There are several sets of circumstances which can trigger plate impoundment. For example, Minnesota Statute section 168.041 states in part: "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."

More important in the context of this website are the terms of Minnesota Statute section 168.042, which specifies several situations in which a DWI offense can trigger plate impoundment. This statute has been in effect for a long time, but was made significantly tougher by changes which became effective in January of 1998. Under the current law prior alcohol-related driver's license revocations are counted as prior DWIs. The law states that the Commissioner of Public Safety shall issue a registration plate impoundment order under these circumstances:

  1. A first offense DWI if the test result is 0.20% or more, or the driver fails to stop at a railroad crossing or there is a passenger in the vehicle under the age of 16.
  2. A second DWI within 5 years of a prior.
  3. A third DWI within 15 years of two or more priors.

The registration plate impound order is usually issued directly by the arresting police officer, acting on behalf of the Commissioner of Public Safety. The order can also be issued by a judge or by the state Department of Public Safety. The order will generally require the person who receives it to surrender the plates from any other vehicle(s) registered with his name on the title. At the time a police officer issues an impound order he will also 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.

It is often possible to get special license plates for the vehicle so it can be driven while subject to the impound order. For example, if the driver obtains a limited driver's license, he can then apply for special plates for the vehicle. Or if the driver has a household member or other person who has a valid license and needs to drive the vehicle, special plates can be obtained to enable that other person to drive the vehicle until the violator gets his/her license back. The special plates have certain letters in them which are known to police officers. Under a recent law, Minnesota Statute section 168.0422, a police officer who sees a car with these special plates being driven has the right to stop the vehicle to see if the driver is operating the vehicle lawfully under a valid driver's license. When the revoked driver gets full driving privileges reinstated, he may apply for new regular license plates for any vehicles registered in his name.

If the vehicle was not owned by the driver who was arrested, the registered owner may be able to have new regular license plates issued for the vehicle. The registered owner has the right to file a sworn statement with the Commissioner of Public Safety setting out the facts and requesting new plates. If the statement satisfies certain basic requirements the new plates will be issued.

Occasionally the police officer who arrests someone for DWI will impound the vehicle license plates be mistake. Or, there may be technical legal reasons why a plate impoundment may not be proper. Many of the legal defenses specified in the "Possible Defenses" section of this website also apply to the validity of a plate impoundment. If it appears the impoundment is improper the subject of the order can request a review of its validity. This can be an administrative review, handled strictly be paperwork, or a judicial review, which includes a hearing in front of a judge. Administrative reviews are rarely successful. Most attorneys would recommend a judicial review if a review is to be requested.

A judicial review of a license plate impoundment order is very similar to an Implied Consent Hearing to contest the validity of a driver's license revocation. In fact, the two types of hearings are often combined and heard at the same time. It is important to remember that if a review is desired, IT MUST BE REQUESTED WITHIN 30 DAYS OF THE RECEIPT OF THE NOTICE AND ORDER OF IMPOUNDMENT. Just as with a request for an Implied Consent Hearing, a request made after 30 days is not valid. There is no grace period.