The Scarlet Letter: A New Trend in DUI Enforcement


Have you ever heard of ‘Whiskey Plates’ or ‘Party Plates’?  Don’t let the ‘fun’ names fool you.  This is what Minnesotans and Ohioans call special license plates that are given to suspected DUI offenders.  This shameful trend is growing, as Iowa and Oregon have recently added laws for DUI offenders to display these colorful plates on their vehicles.

When you receive a DUI in these states, the arresting officer will issue an impound order on your vehicle, which you then have to surrender your current license plates to the state.  The state then destroys your surrendered plates and issues you ‘whiskey plates’ or ‘party plates’, which they are commonly called.   Once your car has displayed these plates for a certain amount of time, depending on which state you live in, you then have to pay for brand new plates.

Formally called license plate impoundment, one has to wonder who thought this law would somehow benefit the public in any way.  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 addition to steep fines, classes, insurance premium increases, possible job loss and possible jail time, these plates not only cost a pretty penny, but they are also publicly humiliating to family members of the suspected DUI offender:

1. The person driving the car that bears these plates is not necessarily the person who received the DUI.  Let’s say your spouse received a DUI and you take your children to school each day.  Imagine the looks of disgust you might receive during this normal, everyday task that most families do daily.  These colorful plates now automatically incriminate you as the offender, when it was actually your significant other.


2. Police officers are more likely to pull someone over in a car bearing these plates versus a car that is displaying regular license plates.  Past DUI offenses should not constitute probable cause.  Imagine how inconvenient and embarrassing this would be if you are the spouse of someone who received a DUI.

It makes you wonder if the supporters of the idea actually thought of the real, everyday effects the DUI plates would have on people.  Some would say this goes beyond the penal spectrum of DUI laws.  Most would agree that this shame-based punishment should really be reserved for much more severe criminal offenders.

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