Drinking and driving can lead to serious penalties in California. However, it is less clear how alcohol may be transported safely in a car. Being legally able to have an open bottle of alcohol in your car depends heavily on the context of the situation.
If you’ve been charged with an open container infraction for having an open bottle in your car, or if it led to a DUI charge, you have the right to have a lawyer review your case. By calling us today at (310) 896-2724, you can schedule your free case evaluation with a leading DUI lawyer.
Keeping an Open Bottle of Alcohol in Your Car
When you think of an open bottle of alcohol, you may consider one that has its cap missing. However, under California Vehicle Code 23222, the legal definition of an open container includes any bottle in which the manufacturer’s seal has been broken. Even if you have closed the bottle, you run the chance of being in violation of the law.
As long as you are over the age of 21, you can have an open bottle of alcohol in your personal vehicle if:
- You keep the container in an area not readily accessible by passengers.
- You remain off public roadways.
If you keep a sealed bottle of alcohol in your trunk, you won’t run afoul of the law. Keeping a bottle in the glove compartment or center console can cause you to be in violation of the law.
Similarly, having an open bottle in your car while in your driveway or on other private land is not a violation of the law. However, once you enter a public roadway with the container, you may be cited for violating the law.
Exceptions for Minors
Minors face a special restriction for carrying alcohol. In most circumstances, a person under the age of 21 cannot be found in a vehicle carrying bottles of alcohol, regardless of it being open or closed. In fact, it is a criminal misdemeanor under Vehicle Code 23224 for a minor to be either the driver or passenger in a vehicle with alcohol unless:
- There is a parent, legal guardian, or other person over the age of 20 designated by the minor’s parents present in the vehicle.
- The individual is employed by and acting on behalf of a business that is licensed to serve alcohol in California.
- They are transporting the alcohol on behalf a parent, guardian, or other designated adult and are in the process of completing the task in a timely manner
Violations of this statute can come with serious penalties. These penalties can include:
- Losing your personal vehicle for one to 30 days
- Up to $1,000 in fines
- A county jail sentence of up to six months
A jail sentence is not mandatory under this statute. While the judge is free to assess the monetary penalty alone, they are also entitled under the statute to sentence you to jail in addition to the fine. The sort of punishment you receive will depend heavily on the facts of the case and the strength of your defense.
Other Potential Violations of the Open Container Law
While an open bottle of alcohol might be a clear contender to put you in violation of the open container law, the language of VC 23222 is broad. You may be found to be in violation of the law if you carry:
- Hip flasks
- Any other container that currently contains (or shows signs of recently containing) alcohol
The language is broad enough that you can be found in violation of the law if you are improperly carrying empty bottles that you are bringing to be recycled. Any open alcohol container, even if it’s been empty for months or years, must be stored in an area away from where people can sit.
Vehicle for Hire Exception
You are allowed to have an open bottle of alcohol with you if you are riding in a limousine, taxi, or any other vehicle-for-hire service.
Getting Legal Help
An open container infraction may be partnered with a DUI charge, increasing the penalties you may face. It may also be a plea bargain option, depending on the facts of your case. To understand what legal options are available for you, call us today at (310) 896-2724.