William Mitchell Law Review

Publication Information

30 William Mitchell Law Review 513 (2003-2004)


The Minnesota Supreme Court recently addressed whether a Minnesota statute authorizing law enforcement to stop motorists based solely on the presence of special license plates issued primarily to repeat drunken drivers is proper under the United States and Minnesota Constitutions. In State v. Henning, the court held the statute unconstitutional by a 4-3 decision. Finding no persuasive reason to do otherwise, the court struck down the legislature's attempt to eliminate the requirement that law enforcement have “reasonable articulable suspicion” to conduct an investigatory stop of a motor vehicle. This article provides a brief survey of similar laws in other states that require offenders to visually inform the police and public that they have been convicted of drunken driving or other crimes--a requirement reminiscent of centuries-old “scarlet letter” sentencing. The article then explains two constitutional issues key to the Henning decision: the United States Supreme Court's “reasonable articulable suspicion” standard and its erosion, and the Minnesota Constitution's strong protections against “seizure.” Next, the article traces the history and holding of the Henning case and focuses on the statutes involved. Finally, the article critiques the Minnesota Supreme Court's majority opinion and dissent, noting that while the court has outlawed traffic stops based solely on special “WX,” “WY,” or “WZ” license plates, police are likely to receive the benefit of the doubt as long as they can provide any reasonable reason for the stop.