Attorney at Law

Open Container

James Parker
February 20, 2022

What Is An Open Container?

An open container is legally defined as any receptacle in a vehicle that holds alcoholic beverages that have either had their seal broken or had any of their contents removed. An open container can not only be something easily understood like an open beer can or a soft drink cup, but also less obvious examples. 

If an individual has a handle of liquor that is less than full, that would be considered an open container, even if the liquor bottle was opened some time ago and not initially opened in the vehicle itself. An open container can be considered to be any receptacle from which an individual is capable of immediately consuming from. 

Typically the definition of an open container will pertain to so-called “open container laws.” In general, an open container law holds that it is illegal for a driver to possess an open container in their vehicle. Where and how this possession is defined varies by state but can include having an open container within arm’s reach, possessing an open container in an idling car, or having an open container in a passenger area.

Key Takeaways

  • An open container can be any alcoholic beverage that is able to be drunk from.
  • Open container laws are separate from DUI allegations and can compound charges.
  • An open container can be assumed to be in the possession of the driver and possession of an open container can still cause trouble even if the individual is not the one driving. 
  • If you have been arrested and charged with a DUI for allegedly having an open container, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by leveraging experience and expert testimony.

Open Containers and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Charges

Open container laws can vary in their application. Typically these laws will only apply on public roads and so driving a vehicle with an open container on private property is tacitly allowed. Some states also allow passengers to consume alcohol or have no explicit prohibition on open containers for non-drivers of a vehicle. However, sometimes open container laws can also extend to public waterways, allowing operators of boats or other watercraft to be charged with violations even though they may not technically qualify for a DUI.

An open container can make things very difficult for a defendant facing DUI charges. If an officer sees an open container of alcohol in the defendant’s car, that can be enough probable cause to assume that the individual has already consumed some of the container’s contents either immediately before or during the time that the defendant was driving. This can make a defendant more likely to be arrested and may reflect poorly on them when they show up in court. 

Additionally, an open container charge can be filed in tandem with a DUI and can impact the defendant separately. For example, it may be found that the defendant was not over the legal limit and therefore not guilty of a DUI. The defendant may still, however, be found guilty of having an open container, suffering all the associated fines and penalties. 

Though not always as extreme as a DUI charge, an open container violation can result in fines ranging from as low as $60 to as high as $500 not including court costs. In addition to monetary fines, an open container violation can add jail time to a sentence and put points on a driver’s license. These penalties can increase insurance prices or even result in a suspended driver’s license. 

Bottom Line

If you have been charged with a DUI and open container violations you will need the help of an experienced DUI attorney to secure the best possible outcome for your case. A DUI attorney can use expert testimony and trial tactics to exclude shaky evidence that paints your case in an unfair light.

Additionally, a DUI attorney can attempt to argue down charges and possibly even drop smaller charges to improve your prospects. By studying local open container laws, a DUI attorney can even prove that a container was not technically open or was in an approved space of the vehicle.

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