DUI License Plate


A couple of posts ago I wrote an article on the judge who imposed a probation condition that required a DUI defendant to wear a sign that indicated that he killed someone while driving drunk. Not surprisingly, the sign put the defendant’s safety in jeopardy. The judge was eventually forced to reconsider his probation condition.

Well, let the stigmatization continue.

Some states carry laws that require certain DUI offenders to affix special, sometimes brightly colored, license plates to their vehicles. These states include Georgia, Minnesota and Ohio. In fact, a former colleague who is now a prominent Minnesota defense attorney confirmed that these plates have unofficially received the moniker “whiskey plates.” In true Scarlet Letter form, Minnesota’s whiskey plate numbers begins with a “W” clearly identifying the driver as a DUI offender.

Legislators have introduced bills in Maryland, Iowa, New York, and Virginia that would require a similar humiliating insignia.

The expectation for this type of law is that the shame associated with having to drive with one of these plates will serve as a deterrent to future DUIs for the offender as well as observers. Surely, nobody wants these plates, but is the possibility of having the plate any more of a deterrent than other penalties associated with a DUI; fines, fees, DUI classes, probation, possible jail time, etc.? More importantly, what could be ancillary effect of being stigmatized with a whiskey plate?

It is possible that law enforcement officers who see the Scarlett W are going to be more likely to pull someone over regardless of whether there is probable cause. In other words, “they’ve driven drunk in the past, they’re probable driving drunk now.”

What are other motorists going to do in the presence of the person who bears a whiskey plate? Avoid them on the road, they’re a danger. This could disrupt traffic and even possibly cause accidents. Other motorists could stare at them while on the road, also creating the potential for an accident. Most importantly, they could be compelled to express anger toward them in some way, thereby jeopardizing the safety of today’s Hester Prynne.

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