It’s against the law in California to carry an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. What does an “open container” of alcohol mean in this situation? Any container of alcohol that was open at any time could be considered an open container. This definition includes containers that were re-closed or containers that were emptied before you drove, for example.
You may face criminal charges for transporting an open container. Learn more about these charges and focus on additional examples of open containers right here.
Defining an Open Container in California
The court system in California uses Vehicle Code Section 23222(a) to prosecute drivers accused of possessing an open container. VC 23222(a) also provides a legal definition of an open container. According to this law, an open container may include:
- Any container that was opened or that cannot be closed
- Alcoholic containers with their seals removed even if they are not “open”
- Bottles that were opened and re-corked
- Containers that were opened and emptied
This definition means that cups or glasses containing alcohol are open containers. Hip flasks are also considered “open” containers because they cannot be sealed. Driving with any of these containers in the cab of your vehicle could result in criminal charges.
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Even a Coffee Cup Can Be an Open Container
The container in question does not have to be one that was designed to carry alcohol. Any receptacle into which alcohol was put constitutes an open container. If driving with alcohol in a coffee cup or thermos, you may pass the eye test if a police officer stops you for any reason.
However, if the officer has cause to search your vehicle, you will likely be found out and face a charge for carrying an open container.
Safe Areas to Transport Open Containers in California
Technically, you are allowed to carry an open container in some parts of your vehicle. This allowance means you could avoid criminal charges while transporting opened containers of alcohol. You may carry these containers in:
- The trunk of your car
- The bed of your truck
- A locked container inside your vehicle
Be sure that you reach out to a lawyer if you were properly transporting an open container of alcohol and received a ticket. A DUI lawyer in California could work to defend you from charges in this situation.
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Open Containers and Marijuana in California
You should know that you may also face charges for carrying an open container containing drugs. You must transport marijuana according to legal regulations to avoid penalties. You should always leave marijuana in a sealed container or a permitted area of your vehicle.
There is an exception to this rule if you are using marijuana medicinally. You may have an ID card or doctor’s recommendation to demonstrate that you have a medical use for the marijuana. You must also keep the marijuana in:
- Its sealed container
- A resealed container
- A closed receptacle
A lawyer may be able to help you if you are accused of carrying open marijuana while driving.
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Penalties for Transporting an Open Container
Drivers are often charged with an infraction for possessing an open container. Infractions only result in fines, not jail time. You may also be required to pay court fees if you are convicted of carrying an open container of alcohol or drugs.
However, you may face harsher penalties if you are a young driver. Drivers under the age of 21 may face misdemeanor charges. The court may charge you under Vehicle Code Section 23224. A conviction for VC 23224 may result in:
- Jail time of up to six months
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Summary probation
The court could also suspend your license after a VC 23224 conviction. Make sure you get legal assistance handling a VC 23224 accusation right away.
An Open Container Could Lead to a DUI Charge
One of the most serious potential consequences of having an open container in your vehicle is that it could lead to a DUI charge. If you are stopped by a police officer and they spot an open container in your vehicle, it could lead them to believe that you are intoxicated or further support that belief if they already suspected you of driving under the influence.
Having an open container in your vehicle could serve as probable cause to allow an officer to arrest you for DUI. An officer cannot make a DUI arrest unless there is sufficient evidence to support their suspicion that you were driving under the influence.
Drivers are not required to submit to sobriety field tests, and only those under the age of 21 or who have a prior DUI charge on their record must submit to chemical testing (such as a breathalyzer) before an arrest. Because of this, an open container is often used to justify a DUI arrest.
Defenses for Possessing an Open Container in California
You are not alone if you were accused of possessing an open container in California. A DUI lawyer could help you build a defense for these charges. Your lawyer could work to show that you were carrying an open container in an approved location.
Your lawyer may also work to show that you were stopped without a reasonable cause. Police officers are only supposed to stop you if they believe you committed a crime. A lawyer could work to get your charges dismissed if there was not a good reason to stop you.
A lawyer could also support you in court here in California. Your lawyer may build your defense, so you’re ready to stand before a judge and jury.
Learn What an Open Container Means With a Lawyer
What does an open container mean in California? An open container may refer to any receptacle for alcohol or drugs that has been opened. Even breaking the seal on a container is enough to classify it as “open.” You may face criminal charges for carrying an open container.
Get help handling these charges from the Simmrin Law Group. Call us or complete our online contact form. We can assess your situation with a free consultation.