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Open Container Law Explained
Everyone is aware that you cannot drive your vehicle while you have been drinking but not everyone is as aware of the open container laws. When you have an open container of alcohol in your car, the police think that you might be likely to drink it. There are penalties for violating the open container law and they are usually light, unless you are underage, then you will face more serious consequences.
There are a couple of laws that make having alcohol in a moving vehicle illegal. The only way you can transport an open container of alcohol is by placing it in your trunk or having it thoroughly sealed.
California Open Container Laws
The California Vehicle Code has several sections that apply to open container law. Open container offenses include the following:
23221 VC – This law says that it is against the law for the driver or passenger in any moving vehicle to drink alcohol. Many people are under the assumption that it is only the driver that cannot drink while the car is moving, this is not the case. Passengers that are drinking will lead a police officer to arrest the driver on the suspicion of DUI and the passenger can face a charge of being drunk in public.
23222 (a) VC – This law says that drivers cannot have an open container of alcohol in the car in any way. The container will be considered open if any of the following apply:
• It has a broken seal
• Some of the contents are missing
• The container itself is open or the alcohol is found in a cup or a thermos
If you are stopped by the police and they find an open container, you will probably receive a violation. If you are underage, you will be charged with a more serious offense.
23224 VC – This law say that no one under 21 years of age can have alcohol in a car unless there is someone over age 21 in the car with them, they are following reasonable instructions from a parent or guardian or they are transporting alcohol as a part of their job. These defenses are sometimes hard to prove.
23226 VC – This law says that you cannot store an open container in the passenger compartment in your car. Even if the passenger placed it there, it is still illegal as the only place it can be stored is in the trunk.
Penalties for Open Container Violations
Open container violations are not as severe as other laws involving alcohol and vehicles. If an open container is found, you will be assessed by the police to see if you are driving under the influence. If you are a passenger, you could face a charge of disorderly conduct or drunk in public.
An open container offense can include up to a $250 fine and you can be arrested for suspicion of DUI as well. Those that are under age 21 can face the following consequences:
• License suspension of up to one year
• Jail time of up to six months
• Fines up to $1,000
Open Container Defense
There are defenses for the open container charge:
• If you are a driver for hire and it was your passenger’s open alcohol, you cannot be charged
• If your car does not have a trunk but the alcohol was in a secure place
• If there was not probable cause to search your vehicle, the evidence found cannot be allowed in court
Contact one of our knowledge attorneys to help you with your open container violation. They will review your charge and help you decide on the best possible outcome.