How serious is an open container ticket in California? Some of these tickets are relatively minor, only resulting in a small fine. In other situations, they could lead to jail time. The severity of the ticket often depends upon whether or not you had someone under 21 in your vehicle.
Learn more about California’s open container laws here and review the charges used to prosecute open container tickets and the penalties for a conviction. We will even go over defenses used in open container cases.
Basic Rules on Carrying an Open Container
Drivers in California are not legally allowed to carry open containers of alcohol or drugs in their vehicles. The court uses Vehicle Code Section 23222(a) to prosecute many drivers who are in possession of an open container. Note that California uses a broad definition of an “open container.” An open container is a receptacle of alcohol or drugs that:
- Was opened at any point
- Has a seal that was broken
- Was consumed either partially or completely
This means that you could face a VC 23222(a) charge even if you have an empty bottle of alcohol in your vehicle, and it applies even if you didn’t drink the alcohol while driving. You could pick up a discarded bottle by the side of the road to clean up litter and end up facing VC 23222(a) charges.
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Many Receptacles Can Be Considered Open Containers
An open container does not only refer to a bottle or can, designed to hold drugs or alcohol. Any container can be considered an open container if it retains alcohol. If someone puts alcohol into their coffee, the coffee cup becomes an open container if you bring it into your vehicle. Any cup can be considered an open container.
While a police officer may be less likely to suspect a coffee cup of containing alcohol as opposed to a beer bottle, it does not mean you will get away with it. Even if you are not driving, it is always in your best interest to keep any open containers out of your vehicle or in an approved location within the car.
Exceptions to Open Container Charges in California
You should know that there are steps you could take to legally transport an open container in California. Technically, you are allowed to transport these containers if you have them:
- In the trunk of your car
- In the bed of your truck
- In a locked container
You could also be allowed to carry previously opened containers of medical marijuana in some cases. However, you’ll need a valid doctor’s order to transport marijuana in this way. In other cases, you’ll need to keep any marijuana cases in one of the approved locations in your vehicle.
Additionally, some “hired” vehicles do not face the same restrictions on carrying open containers. For example, limousine and bus drivers may not get a ticket for transporting an open container in all situations. Even taxi drivers could avoid these tickets in California.
Results of an Open Container Ticket in California
What happens if you get a ticket for transporting an open container in California? Carrying an open container is usually considered an infraction. The penalties for a conviction of an infraction tend to be relatively minor.
The court system generally charges drivers a fine of up to $250 for transporting an open container. However, you could face more serious penalties if you had someone under the age of 21 in your vehicle. Carrying an open container of alcohol in a car with someone under 21 is considered a misdemeanor.
You could end up facing six months of jail time after a conviction in this situation. You may also face fines of up to $1,000. A DUI lawyer will help if you are accused of this traffic violation.
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Defenses for Open Container Tickets in California
You do not just have to accept an open container ticket in California. Take steps to defend yourself from these charges by reaching out to a lawyer for help. A member of a legal team will work to show that:
- You were carrying the container in an approved location
- You were traveling in an exempt vehicle at the time you were ticketed
- You were stopped by a police officer without probable cause
A lawyer will also work to show that a police officer performed an illegal search of your vehicle to find the open container. Police officers are not allowed to simply search your vehicle whenever they want. They require a warrant, your permission, or reasonable cause to believe a crime is being committed.
Get help handling charges for transporting an open container with a lawyer who will work to get your charges dismissed. Find out more right now.
An Open Container Can Lead to a DUI Charge
One of the biggest consequences of having an open container in your vehicle isn’t an open container ticket itself, but rather that it can end up leading to a DUI charge. An officer might use an open container as probable cause to arrest you on suspicion of DUI.
Police officers can not make a DUI arrest unless they have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. While they might ask a driver to perform a sobriety test after being pulled over, the driver can politely decline both sobriety field tests and chemical tests unless they have already been arrested or have a history of DUIs.
The arresting officer will need something else to suggest that you are impaired to make an arrest in this situation. An open alcohol container can provide them with just that. The consequences of a DUI conviction can be far harsher than even a misdemeanor open container charge.
Discuss the Severity of an Open Container Ticket With a Lawyer
How serious is an open container ticket in California? Sometimes, these tickets are minor and only lead to fines. In other cases, you could face misdemeanor charges. The Simmrin Law Group will help you in either situation. Contact one of our DUI lawyers in California for a free consultation to discuss your case.
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