Having An Open Container Can Get You Charged In Many Places

28 December 2015
 Categories: Law, Articles

If you are headed to a holiday party, there is nothing wrong with taking a bottle of alcohol with you as long as the bottle has not been opened. If your bottle has been previously opened, or the seal has been broken, you run the risk of being charged with violating your state's open container law. Understanding what these laws are, as well as the penalties involved, may keep you from having to contact a traffic law or DUI attorney before the new year gets started. 

What Are Considered Open Containers?

Many people only think of cups or cans of open beverages as things that can violate the open container laws. Unfortunately, this is not true. An open container can be any type of receptacle that is used to hold any type of alcoholic beverage. These include:

  • Cans
  • Jars
  • Bottles
  • Flasks
  • Cups and more

If the seal has been broken, or the top is easy to open, or the beverage within would be easy to consume, it can be considered to be an open container. These laws are often applicable within vehicles as well as in public places. If you violate open container laws you could find yourself charged with a criminal offense. 

What Does TEA-21 Have To Do With Open Containers?

Occasionally, the federal government will apply pressure to states in order to get them to enact laws pertaining to a certain subject. This has happened in the case of open container laws. The federal government set out six criteria in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in order for states to receive highway funding. These criteria include:

  1. Prohibiting the possession of, and consumption of, any alcoholic beverage in a vehicle
  2. Laws apply to all types of alcoholic beverages
  3. An outline what is defined as the interior of the vehicle and must include the glove box
  4. Rules that are applicable to drivers as well as passengers
  5. Criteria that is applicable to any vehicle while it is located anywhere on a public road
  6. Criteria that gives officers the authority to stop and enforce the laws

If states do not meet this criteria, then a portion of the funding that they receive under TEA-21 must be used for alcohol awareness. One of the ways that many of the states meets this criteria is through the institution of open container laws. There are still eleven states that do not have a ban on open containers in your vehicle. These states are

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Although you are allowed to have an open container in these states, consumption is still for your passengers only. It is not legal to consume alcohol while driving anywhere but in the state of Mississippi, although there may be may local laws in certain areas of Mississippi prohibiting this.

What Are The Penalties?

The penalties for having an open container can vary greatly from state to state. They will also vary based on whether it is your first or subsequent offense, and what fine you are charged with may depend on whether you are the driver or the passenger.

For example: In Colorado, you would only be facing a $50 fine, and it would simply be classified as a class A traffic infraction. If you were stopped in Hawaii, and you were driving the vehicle, you could be facing up to a $2000 fine, and 30 days in jail. A violation would be considered a petty misdemeanor. 

In addition to fines and penalties, some states may also suspend your driving licenses for multiple infractions of this law. If you have been charged with DUI or having an open container in your vehicle, you need to contact a DUI or traffic law attorney to review your case. They will be able to review your case and come up with the proper defense against your charges. Contact a firm like Thomas & Associates, PC for more information.