In California, it’s not just illegal to drink and drive. It’s also illegal to have any open container of alcohol in the vehicle—even if you’re completely sober. But the penalties for carrying an open container are much less severe, and this charge is preferable to a DUI conviction. In rare cases, it may be possible to have your DUI charge reduced to an open container violation.
What counts as an open container violation?
Having an open container of alcohol in a car is illegal under California Vehicle Code 23222(a). But the things that count as an “open container” are often surprising. The alcohol does not have to be open at the time you are pulled over for it to count against you. Any previously opened, or partly consumed, alcohol is enough to convict you.
Some of the things that count as open containers include:
- Wine that has been uncorked, even if the bottle is full
- Completely empty cans, bottles or other alcohol containers
- Any alcohol container that has had its seal broken, even if it was never actually opened
- Growlers that don’t have a seal over the lid
Some exceptions apply. Open containers are legal in RVs and other “house” vehicles, as well as in vehicles for hire like limousines and taxis. Open containers can also be stored in the trunk, a pickup flatbed, or anywhere else where there are no passengers.
How likely is it to get a DUI reduced to an open container violation?
It’s rare. Usually open container violations go the other way: first the officer notices the open container, and then they add on a DUI charge after further investigation. Getting a full DUI charge reduced to just open container is uncommon.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get a plea bargain. It just means you are more likely to get your DUI reduced to drinking in a vehicle, which is often closer to what happened. Alternately, the prosecutor might agree to reduce it to an open container violation plus a traffic violation. This “two charge” approach is more common and is still a better deal than getting a DUI conviction.
There are some cases where an open container plea bargain is a real possibility, however. These are usually situations where you are already being charged with both DUI and open container, but the DUI is hard to prove—perhaps because your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) wasn’t very high, or because there are other weaknesses with the evidence against you.
Why is an open container violation better than a DUI?
The consequences for DUI are severe. In California, the penalties for even a first time DUI include:
- Drivers license suspension
- Jail time
- Fines and fees totaling thousands of dollars
- 3-5 years of probation including mandatory traffic classes
- Typically, a dramatic increase in your insurance rates
Open container violations don’t carry any of these drawbacks. In fact, if you are 21 or older, an open container violation isn’t even a misdemeanor criminal offense. It’s a simple ticket.
Most importantly, repeat DUI offenders face outrageous extra penalties in California. But an open container doesn’t count as a DUI, so if you are ever pulled over for drunk driving again, it will be considered your first offense.
What are the penalties for an open container violation?
If you are 21 or older, the only penalty for having an open container in the vehicle is:
- A fine of up to $250
This is why it’s considered so much better than a DUI conviction.
For drivers under 21, an open container is a much more serious offense. You will likely be charged with underage possession of alcohol in a vehicle, which carries jail time, higher fines, and a potential suspension of your drivers license. Depending on the circumstances, this may still be a better outcome than a DUI conviction.
How do I get my DUI reduced?
You need to speak to an experienced DUI defense lawyer. Prosecutors don’t have an incentive to offer you any deal at all unless they think it will be hard to convict you. And a driver who doesn’t have a lawyer is, unfortunately, very easy to convict.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.