Can you have an open bottle of alcohol in your car in California? In most cases, no. Transporting an open container of alcohol is against the law. You could get a ticket if a police officer finds you with an open bottle of alcohol.
Review the results of a ticket for carrying an open container with this article. You could also consider exceptions to these charges and possible legal defenses.
California’s Legal Definition of an Open Container
It’s important that you understand the legal definition of an open container in the state of California. Any vessel used to hold alcohol or drugs could end up classified as an open container if it:
- Was opened and reclosed
- Had its seal broken
- Was partially or completely consumed
This means that bottles of alcohol could qualify as open containers. This applies to both bottles of beer, which cannot easily be closed again, and bottles of wine, which could be recorked. Once you open the container, it will always be considered open, even if you close it again.
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You Can Transport an Open Container in Some Places
You cannot legally have an open bottle of alcohol in the cab of your car. However, you might be able to transport these containers in some situations. If you need to travel with an open bottle of alcohol, you must keep it in the trunk of your car or the bed of your truck.
If you do not have a trunk or truck bed, you could store the alcohol in a locked container. The container must be both closed and locked for you to avoid a ticket for carrying an open container. Find out more about legally carrying alcohol in a vehicle by calling us.
You could also avoid charges for transporting open containers of alcohol if you are riding in some for-hire vehicles. Buses and limousines, for example, could allow you to carry open containers of alcohol in some situations.
Penalties for Carrying an Open Bottle of Alcohol
Possessing an open container while driving could result in a ticket in California. Generally, you face charges under California Vehicle Code Section 23222(a). VC 23222(a) charges are treated as infractions in the state.
Infractions generally only result in a fine in California. You could face fines of up to $250 for carrying an open bottle of alcohol in your car. In some situations, though, you could also face additional criminal charges. For example, you could get charged with driving under the influence (DUI).
You are not allowed to operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol in California. You must keep your blood alcohol content (BAC) below the legal limit to lawfully drive. In most cases, the state of California requires you to keep your BAC under 0.08%. However, you may need to keep your BAC lower in some cases.
If you are a commercial driver, your BAC must be under 0.04%, and if you are under the legal drinking age of 21, your BAC must be below 0.01%. You could face charges for a DUI and for carrying an open container while driving. These charges are not mutually exclusive in California.
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An Open Container Can Be Cause for a DUI Arrest
When you are stopped by a police officer, they can not arrest you for a DUI unless they have probable cause to do so. Simply thinking that you might be under the influence is not enough to justify an arrest. They need some supporting evidence.
To get the evidence they require, police officers will often request that you perform a field sobriety test. However, these tests are not mandatory, and even sober people can often fail them. It is in your best interest to always decline to take these tests even if you have not been drinking.
Officers will likely also request a chemical test like a breathalyzer. However, most people can also refuse this test unless they have already been arrested for suspicion of DUI. The only people that must comply with a chemical test before an arrest are drivers under the age of 21 or those who have a prior DUI conviction on their record.
When an officer can’t use either of these methods to get what they need to make an arrest, they might take a look through the windows of your vehicle. If they spot an open container, it could be enough to justify a DUI arrest.
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Carrying an Open Bottle of Alcohol With Occupants Under 21
Possessing an open container while driving is often an infraction. However, you could face misdemeanor charges if you have an open container in a car with individuals under the age of 21. This could result in Vehicle Code Section 23224 charges in California. VC 23224 convictions result in:
- Jail time of up to six months
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Summary probation
You could also face restrictions on your driving privileges after a VC 23224 conviction in court. Fortunately, a DUI lawyer can help you handle these charges in California. A lawyer will work to show that you were properly transporting a container of alcohol, for example.
A lawyer will also work to show that you were stopped without due cause by a police officer. Your lawyer may even argue that the officer had no legal right to search your vehicle for open bottles of alcohol. Learn more with the Simmrin Law Group.
Any Container Can Be an Open Container
The container in question does not have to be one designed for alcohol. If you have a coffee cup into which you poured some alcohol, that can also be considered an open container. While it may pass the eye test if an officer has probable cause to search your vehicle, the change in the container will not protect you from a charge.
Find Out if Can Have Open Bottles of Alcohol in Your Car
Can you have an open bottle of alcohol in your car in California? Generally, it is against the law to carry an open container of alcohol. You could face criminal charges for this act. The Simmrin Law Group will help build your defense in this situation. Find out how by calling us. You may also reach out to us by completing our online contact form.
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