If the container was open

California laws prohibit driving with an alcoholic beverage in a container that is open and exposed, clearly has a broken seal, or has been partially consumed. Containers can be anything from a can to a plastic cup and merely having an open container in a vehicle is enough to satisfy the statute. Open container is the most common alcohol-related offense where the driver is not charged with DUI. In being cited for open container, it does not matter if you are a driver or are a passenger, or if you were drinking the alcohol. The offense is for the fact that the container was open.

If you must transport an open container, place it in the trunk of your vehicle, where it cannot be accessed by anyone in the vehicle. In general, drivers should be particularly careful when transporting bottles of liquor or wine in which the seal has been broken or uncorked. Although having an open container is a less serious offense than a DUI, a conviction can still seriously affect your license status or insurance.

Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing

California’s open container laws are infraction charges. They don’t carry jail time and are only punishable by a maximum $250 fine. The exception to this rule applies to underage possession of alcohol which in California is considered a misdemeanor and shall be punished upon conviction by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

If the vehicle involved is registered to an offender who is under the age of 21 years, the vehicle may be impounded at the owner’s expense for not less than one day nor more than 30 days for each violation.

Open container violations will also likely result in points added to your California DMV record. If open container is charged in connection with a DUI, it will probably result in a mandatory jail sentence.

Additionally, a minor in possession of alcohol also violates California Business & Professions Code 25662 BPC. A misdemeanor conviction for BP 25662 – minor in possession – is punishable by a maximum of 36 hours of community service. However, if you’re convicted of this offense, even as an infraction, your California driver’s license will be suspended for a year.

Being cited for having an open container in your vehicle may have long term consequences that may be mitigated by the advice of expert counsel. Legal options and alternate sentencing may be available that might prevent loss of your drivers’ license and a reduction or avoidance of jail time. An experienced criminal attorney is the best source for advice in these cases.

Daniel R. Perlman
The Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman