An open container law makes it a criminal offense to have an open container of alcohol inside the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle. Open container laws are an important tool in the fight against drunk driving.
In many states, a violation of an open container is only an infraction with a fine. However, if the driver or a passenger is under the legal age of 21 and is caught with an open container of alcohol, the punishment can be much severe. In addition, many drivers could be charged with a DUI if the open container was with the driver at the time of driving.
The basic rule is that there are laws that you cannot operate or drive a motor vehicle with an open alcoholic beverage even if the alcohol has not been consumed by the driver or passenger.
Open container laws vary from state to state. However, the federal government has established a program to encourage states to conform their open container laws to certain federal standards.
A state’s open container law must meet six standards to fully conform to the federal requirements:
- Prohibit possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and the consumption of any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle.
- Apply to all alcoholic beverages.
- Define the passenger area of any motor vehicle as the area designed to seat the driver and passengers while the motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger while in their seating positions, including the glove compartment.
- Apply to all drivers and passengers in the motor vehicle.
- Apply to a motor vehicle while it is located anywhere on a public highway or the right-of-way (e.g., shoulder) of the public highway.
- Specify that officers have the authority to stop a vehicle to enforce the open container law.
All but 14 states have open container laws that conform to the federal standards.
Open container laws vary from state to state, however there are some legal defenses to an open container charge:
- The alcohol was not in the vehicle and was in the trunk.
- The driver was a hired employee such as a taxi driver, personal driver, limousine driver.
- The police had no probable cause to stop the vehicle.
- The open container was discovered during an illegal search and/or violation of drivers 4th amendment rights.
- The alcohol container was not open and was secured at all times.
If you are arrested for having an open container, you should speak to a criminal defense lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses and the complicated legal system.