California Open Container Explained
Driving while intoxicated by alcohol is a crime but not everyone is aware of open container laws. When alcohol is open in a vehicle, police believe that this means the driver is likely to consume it. Penalties for an open container violation are light, but drivers who are underage can face much harsher consequences.
California lawmakers have enacted a number of laws that make it illegal to have alcohol in a moving vehicle. Drinking and driving and even having alcohol in your car while driving, if there is evidence that you were drinking or intended to drink, can lead to criminal charges. The fact is that having any alcohol in your car, especially if you are under the legal drinking age, can result in penalties unless that alcohol is in your trunk or is thoroughly sealed. Drivers for hire such as taxi or bus drivers are also exempt from these laws.
What Are the Open Container Laws in California?
California Vehicle Code has many sections that apply to open containers. These offenses include:
23221 VC – This law states that it is illegal for any driver OR passenger to drink alcohol while the car is in motion. Many people think that as long as the driver is not consuming the alcohol then no crime is being committed. This is not true and a passenger who is drinking may lead police to arrest the driver for suspicion of DUI as well. The passenger could also face charged for being drunk in public.
23222 (a) VC – This law prevents any driver from having a container with alcohol in the car if the container is open in any way. The law states that a container is considered open if any of the following apply:
- The seal is broken
- Any of the contents is missing
- The container is open or the alcohol is in a cup or thermos
If police stop your vehicle and find an open container, you can face a violation. If you are under the legal drinking age, you will be charged with another offense that carries more serious consequences.
23224 VC – This law states that on one under the age of 21 can have any alcohol in the car with them. The only exceptions to this law are if there is an adult over 21 in the car as well, the underage driver is following reasonable instructions from a parent or guardian or the alcohol is being transported as part of the minor's employment. These defenses are very specific and may be hard to prove in some cases.
23226 VC – This law states that it is illegal to store an open container in the passenger compartment of your car. Even is a passenger is the one who out it there, the law specifically states that it is illegal under any circumstances. The only place that an open container can be stored is in a trunk or in a secure place in an RV or trailer.
California Open Container Penalties
The penalties for an open container are not as severe as the penalties for other alcohol related driving offenses. Any alcohol related offenses is taken very seriously by police, however, and you will likely be evaluated for signs of driving under the influence. If you passenger(s) were consuming the alcohol, they may also face charges for being drunk in public or disorderly conduct.
For adults, an open container offense will lead to a $250 fine. In many cases, though, if you have an open container, police may arrest you for suspicion of DUI as well. In the opposite scenario, if you are arrested for DUI and have an open container in the car, you may face an additional charge for possessing it.
Drivers who are underage and violate Section code 23224 for possessing alcohol in their vehicle will face more serious penalties. The following consequences apply:
- Up to one year of license suspension
- Up to six months of jail time and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines
California Open Container Defense
If you are facing charges for an open container violation, you have defenses. If you were a driver for hire and your passengers had the open alcohol, you cannot be charged for their actions. If the container was in the truck of you vehicle or in a secure place if your car does not have a trunk, you can avoid charges. Finally, if the police did not have probable cause to search your vehicle, the evidence they find (i.e. the container of alcohol) cannot be admissible in court and your charges will likely be dropped.
A lawyer from our firm can help you fight your charges and get the results you want. Call us right now for a free consultation and find out what a DUI lawyer can do for you.