You can get a ticket for transporting an open container of alcohol in California. Many drivers wonder if a cup is an open container. Technically, cups that hold any form of alcohol are considered open containers in California. This distinction may apply even if the cup is currently empty.
You can learn more about different kinds of open containers and review the penalties for transporting an open container right here. Find information about legal defenses against tickets for carrying an open container.
Defining an Open Container in California
Many people are unsure about the exact definition of an open container in California. Any receptacle containing alcohol may get classified as an open container. These items include bottles, cans, and cups. You could get a ticket for transporting an open container if you have a container that was:
- Open and then closed again
- Sealed if the seal was broken
- Consumed partially or completely
Under this definition, a cup could be considered an open container. You may get a ticket even if you are holding a cup of alcohol that you drank completely before getting stopped by a police officer.
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Charges Used to Handle Transport of an Open Container
The state of California uses several different codes to handle the transport of open containers. Basic charges are often prosecuted under Vehicle Code Section 23222(a). VC 23222(a) is treated as an infraction in California. Generally, you face fines of up to $250 for this offense.
However, California courts use more serious charges in some cases. For example, let’s say that you had someone under the age of 21 in your vehicle along with an open container. You would then face charges under Vehicle Code Section 23224. VC 23224 is considered a misdemeanor in California. A conviction could result in:
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Jail time of up to six months
- Summary probation
- License restrictions
Take charges for possessing an open container seriously by reaching out to a DUI lawyer in California. A lawyer can start working on your defense now.
Additional Charges Associated With Carrying an Open Container
You may face more serious charges if you are found carrying an open container in a car. If you are operating the vehicle, you could be charged with driving under the influence (DUI). Prosecutors often use the presence of open containers of alcohol to assert that you were impaired.
A lawyer can help you in this situation. Your lawyer could work to show that you were not impaired, even if you had an open container in your vehicle. A lawyer may also demonstrate that you were stopped without reasonable cause by a police officer.
Law enforcement officers are not supposed to stop you unless they have reason to believe you were committing a crime. A cup may give them the reason they’re looking for.
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Exceptions for Open Container Laws in California
You should also know that there are several major exceptions to California’s open container laws. For example, you are technically allowed to carry open containers of alcohol in some places in your vehicle. You may avoid fines if the container in question was in:
- The trunk of your car
- The bed of your truck
- A locked container
The state of California also eases open container restrictions for individuals riding on some vehicles for hire. For example, you may not get a ticket if you were riding in a limousine or a bus.
Note that these exceptions do not apply in all cases. You could face criminal charges if anyone in the commercial vehicle was under 21 years of age. A DUI lawyer will review all the facts of your case. Your lawyer may demonstrate that you were exempt from open container regulations.
Your lawyer might focus on getting an open container ticket dismissed in some cases. They may even argue that the police officer conducted an illegal search of your vehicle. This could help build your defense. Find out more about your options now.
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It Does Not Matter if the Cup Is Sealable
You may wonder if a closed coffee cup is exempt from the open container law. After all, the container is not technically open. However, unlike a sealed beer can or bottle, a sealable coffee cup can be opened and closed at will. Once the seal is broken on a beer can, it can not be closed again. That is why sealed beer cans are not considered open containers.
With a coffee cup, on the other hand, closing it does not mean that you have not been drinking out of it. You can easily consume the entire contents of the coffee cup and then close the lid. Because of this, a coffee cup that contains alcohol is considered an open container even if it is closed and empty when you are stopped by the police.
An Open Container Can Serve as Probable Cause
If you get pulled over on suspicion of DUI, an open container might be just what the officer needs to make an arrest. Based on probable cause, police officers can request that drivers perform sobriety tests or submit to a breathalyzer or blood test. However, sobriety tests are optional and chemical tests only become compulsory after an arrest.
If you politely decline to submit to these tests, and the officer does not have enough other evidence readily available to suggest you were drinking and driving, they can not legally arrest you. However, if they suspect you were drinking and driving, and you have an open container visible in your vehicle, the officer could make an arrest and compel you to take a chemical test.
Driving under the influence is never a good idea, and drinking as you drive will certainly have unfavorable consequences if a police officer catches you.
Ask a Lawyer if a Cup Is an Open Container in California
A cup holding alcohol could be considered an open container in California. You might get a ticket if a police officer catches you with a cup of alcohol. In this situation, reach out to the Simmrin Law Group for help.
Speak to a member of our team now by calling us. You may also complete our online contact form. Start working with a DUI lawyer now. We even offer free consultations.