Open Container Laws

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California has open container laws which are listed in vehicle code sections 23221-23229. California’s open container laws prohibit driving with an alcoholic beverage in the car if it has been opened, even if the alcoholic beverage has not been consumed. Open container laws are typically treated as an infraction and you may face a $250 fine. However, open container laws have harsher penalties for those who are under 21, regardless of whether you are the passenger or the driver of the vehicle. If you are under 21 and caught violating open container laws you could face a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a possible fine of up to $1,000.00.

Open container laws – legal defenses

Open container laws have a number of legal defenses and we will explain a few of them below:

  • Was the alcohol in the trunk of the vehicle?
  • Were you in a hired car such as a taxi, bus, or limo?
  • Did the officer have probable cause to stop you?
  • Did the police perform an illegal search and seizure when they found the open container?

It is important to understand that within open container laws the word “open” does not literally mean that there is no top on the container. To fall within open container laws the beverage simply has to have been opened, have a broken seal, or been partially or entirely consumed. However, if your case goes to trial the prosecutor must be able to prove that you possessed the open container. If you were in the vehicle with numerous people, for example, you can’t be convicted unless it can be proven that the container was either on your person or under your control. The prosecutor must prove that it is connected directly to you.

What if it’s in the trunk?

You are not guilty of violating California’s open container laws if the open container was in the trunk of the car. If your vehicle does not have a trunk and the open container was in an area not typically occupied by people such as the bed of a truck or in a locked container you should be acquitted of the offense.

What if I was in a bus, taxi, or limo?

You are exempt from prosecution under California’s open container laws if you are a passenger in a vehicle such as a bus, taxi, limo, or camper. Passengers in these types of vehicles are allowed to drink, however, drivers are not. If you are a minor in one of these vehicles (under the legal drinking age of 21), then California’s open container laws apply.

Probable Cause

If you are pulled over and found in violation of California’s open container laws the officer must have had probable cause to stop you in the first place. Under California law probable cause means that the officer had reasonable belief that a crime is or was taking place. For example, if you were speeding, running a stop light, or driving recklessly, the officer has probable cause to pull you over and if an open container is found you will be subject to California’s open container laws. However, if it is found that the cop had no legal reason to stop you it may be possible to have the case dismissed.

Call for help

If you have questions regarding California’s open container laws and would like to confidentially discuss your case with an experienced Fresno criminal attorney, please contact The Law Office of Gregory W. Fox. In most instances an appointment can be scheduled for the same day. Give us a call at (559) 222-5800.

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