Open container charges are a type of alcohol crime involving the transport of alcohol in open containers in motor vehicles. Many states do not allow drivers to have open containers of alcohol in their motor vehicles while they are driving them. Many states also make it a crime to drink alcohol while driving. The goal of these laws is to prevent drunk driving and driving under the influence.
Open container laws usually apply to all alcoholic beverages, regardless of the alcohol content of the beverage. They may also specify the area of the car in which open containers are restricted, i.e., the “passenger area” or areas within the reach of the driver.
What Are the Penalties for Open Container Charges?
Each state in the U.S. has its own open container law, which specifies the penalties for an open container offense. The punishment for having an open container of alcohol in one’s car can range from a citation for an infraction to a misdemeanor charge. The punishment may be the payment of fines and/or time in jail.
There are certain factors that can make open container charges more serious. For instance, if the open container charge is linked with a DUI injury case, it can create more legal and criminal liability for the perpetrator. Or, if it is a repeat offense, the penalties may also increase accordingly.
Are Open Container Laws the Same in Each State?
Each state has its own open container laws. For instance, some states may define “passenger area” differently. Also, the penalties for open container violations are going to be different for each state. There are also federal standards for open container laws, but not all states follow the federal standards exactly.
Some examples of state open container laws and the possible punishments for the offense are as follows:
- Alabama: It is illegal for a person to possess alcoholic beverages in an open container in the passenger area of a motor vehicle of any kind on a public highway in the state of Alabama. The offense is a class C misdemeanor, and the punishment is payment of a fine;
- Alaska: A person may not drive a motor vehicle on a highway in Alaska with an open bottle, can, or other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. However, passengers in a vehicle may consume alcohol from open containers. The offense is an infraction, and the punishment is payment of a fine;
- Arizona: It is unlawful for any person to consume beverages containing alcohol while operating a motor vehicle on any highway in Arizona. Or while in the passenger area of the vehicle. It is also illegal to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage, “spirituous liquor,” in the language of the statute, within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle that is located on any public highway in the state.
- Note that the vehicle does not have to be in motion. The punishment is a bit more severe in Arizona. The offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by payment of a fine of up to $750 and/or a maximum of 4 months in jail;
- Arkansas: In Arkansas, a person may have an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. They just are not allowed to drink from it. Drinking from an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle is a Class C misdemeanor in Arkansas. The punishment is the payment of a fine of up to $100 and a maximum of 30 days in jail;
- Connecticut: It is a crime to drink alcohol while operating a motor vehicle. A passenger may drink alcohol in a motor vehicle. Consuming alcohol while driving is a Class C misdemeanor. Punishment is payment of a fine of $500 and imprisonment in jail for a maximum of 3 months, or both;
- Hawaii: Consuming any “intoxicating liquor” while operating a motor vehicle or moped on any public thoroughfare is illegal in Hawaii. A person may not possess any open beverage containing alcohol while operating a motor vehicle or moped on any kind of thoroughfare in Hawaii. The offense is a misdemeanor. The punishment is a fine of a maximum of $2,000 and a maximum term of imprisonment of 30 days jail, or both;
- Illinois: No driver or passenger may possess any alcoholic liquor within the passenger area of any motor vehicle on a highway in Illinois unless it is in the original container with an unbroken seal, i.e., it has never been opened. A first offense is an infraction. A second offense within 1 year results in the suspension of the perpetrator’s driver’s license for 1 year;
- Maryland: Both possession and consumption of alcohol in motor vehicles are prohibited. The occupant of a motor vehicle, driver or passenger, may not possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a passenger area of a motor vehicle on a highway. The offense is an infraction that is punished by payment of a fine of only $25 plus court costs of $5;
- Minnesota: It is a crime for a person to drink or consume an alcoholic beverage, distilled spirit, or 3.2 percent malt liquor in a motor vehicle when the vehicle is on a street or highway. Misdemeanor, fine up to $1,000, up to 90 days jail, or both;
- Rhode Island: Operating a motor vehicle on any public thoroughfare with an unsealed alcoholic beverage container in the passenger section of the vehicle is prohibited by Rhode Island law.
- A first offense can be punished by payment of a maximum fine of $200 and a suspension of the perpetrator’s driver’s license for up to 6 months or both. A second or subsequent offense is punishable by payment of a fine of up to $500 and a driver’s license suspension for a maximum of 1 year or both;
- Vermont: A person may not consume alcoholic beverages while operating or while a passenger in a motor vehicle on a public highway. A person who is driving a motor vehicle on a public highway or a passenger may not possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of the motor vehicle. A driver can be fined a maximum of $25 fine for possession and a maximum of $500 for consumption while driving.
- A passenger would pay a maximum fine of $25;
- Wyoming: Wyoming has one of the most serious laws for this offense. It provides that no person may consume or possess any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is moving on a public thoroughfare.
- A first conviction is punishable by payment of a maximum fine of $200. A second conviction within a year of the first is punishable by a maximum fine of $300, 30 days in jail, or both. A third or subsequent offense within a year of the 1st is punishable by a maximum fine of $500, 6 months in jail, or both.
Other states have similar laws with similar punishments.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Open Container Charges?
Open container charges may lead to your having a criminal record, so it pays to take it seriously. You want to consult a DUI/DWI lawyer for help with open container charges. LegalMatch.com can connect you to a lawyer who will be able to provide you with the legal advice you need to deal effectively with your open container charge.