Open Container Laws in California
Under the California Vehicle Code (VC) Sections 23221 - 23229, it is illegal to travel with open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles, even if the beverage has been opened and not consumed.
Typically this is an infraction unless there is a minor in the vehicle, which results in a misdemeanor. While driving under the influence of alcohol may be a more obvious legal infraction, transporting an otherwise legally-consumable product can pose a potential liability if open container laws aren’t strictly followed.
The term “open” doesn’t just refer to a beverage with no lid. A container of alcohol is considered to be “open” if:
- It has been opened;
- It has a broken seal; or
- The contents have been partially or completely consumed.
Transporting Open Containers
Open containers may only be carried in your vehicle if it’s in the trunk. In the case that a vehicle does not have a trunk, such as in a hatchback or truck, open containers must be kept in an area where passengers do not normally ride, such as the bed of a truck. Please note that the law does specify that the glove compartment or other internal compartments, though not places a passenger would ride, cannot be used in transporting open containers because they are easily accessible to the driver and passengers.
What is the Penalty for Open Container in California?
Violations of open container laws are considered infractions, punishable by a maximum fine of $250. However, if you are found with an open container and you or any of your passengers are under the age of 21 you could face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, and a fine of up to $1,000.
A conviction may also result in the addition of a point on the driver’s DMV record, an excess of which can result in the revocation of your driver’s license.
What are Defenses for an Open Container Charge?
There are a few defenses for a charge like this, some of which include:
- The alcohol was located in the trunk,
- You were in a "hired" car, such as a taxi, bus or limousine
- The police only discovered your open container because they performed an illegal search and seizure.
Allegations of driving with an open container could have a range of consequences on your life including the loss of driving privileges. If you or a loved one is charged with an open container violation, it is critical that you hire an experienced Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense attorney to help you fight these charges.
At Newman & Allen, you can trust that we will perform a thorough investigation and work relentlessly to fight on your behalf. Contact our Ranch Cucamonga firm today for a free case evaluation.