Carrying an open container or other receptacles for alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle on a public road is typically not a serious offense. When you receive a standard open container ticket, it’s at the lowest level: an infraction. The only punishment for an infraction is a small monetary fine.
However, an open container stored improperly in a vehicle may trigger something far worse: a DUI investigation. Even if you show no signs of impairment, a visible open container is an invitation for a peace officer to detain you for a DUI investigation. It’s possible for you to be arrested for a DUI because of an open container in your vehicle.
If you’ve been found to have an open container in your vehicle and have been charged with a DUI, you need to act quickly. You face an automatic license suspension if not contested within 10 days, and you also face substantially more severe penalties for a DUI than an open container conviction. Call (310) 896-2724 to connect with an experienced DUI lawyer who can evaluate your case for free.
In California, any open container ticket you receive will be authorized by Vehicle Code Section 23222. Under this section of the vehicle code, in order to be found in violation you must:
- Be in a vehicle on a public roadway
- Have a receptacle for alcohol (e.g., can, bottle) or marijuana (e.g., any package that may have carried any form of cannabis) that has its seal broken or is otherwise open
A ticket for an open alcohol container comes with a fine up to $250. For marijuana, the fine is $100. In both cases, it is an infraction and therefore bears no additional criminal penalties for the violation.
The section allows waivers for individuals possessing a valid medical reason for having marijuana on them. If you possess a current identification card or doctor’s recommendation and the container is sealed, resealed, or is otherwise closed, you will not be in violation of the law.
Open Containers and Minors
Minors face a special restriction when it comes to having alcohol or marijuana in the vehicle. If you are under the age of 21, you may not transport alcohol in your vehicle. The exceptions for this law include:
- Transporting alcohol as part of your job
- Transporting the alcohol by request of your parents or legal guardians
- Having a parent or legal guardian in the vehicle with you
Unless you meet these exceptions, you are not allowed to transport alcohol, even if it is closed and properly stored. Just like everyone else, minors under 21 can expect that the police will likely begin a DUI investigation if an open container is discovered in their vehicle. Minors are required by law to comply with requests for a breathalyzer before being arrested and can be convicted of a DUI for having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.01%.
Open Containers and DUIs
If you’re pulled over by the police and they discover an open container, that can be grounds to arrest you for a DUI. The open container, while being a separate violation of the law, is also probable cause for a DUI. Being arrested for DUI at this point means having to face both the drunk driving charge and the open container infraction.
Getting arrested for a DUI has a few immediate impacts. First, you are required to submit to chemical testing once you’ve been arrested. A failure to comply with the officer’s request will mean additional penalties.
Second, the DUI arrest triggers an automatic license suspension process with the DMV. Even if you are ultimately charged with an open container infraction, the arrest is enough to have your license suspended. You will have to request a hearing within 10 days of your arrest and successfully contest the suspension at a hearing.
Plea bargains that consist of only open container tickets are not common for individuals arrested under suspicion of DUI. Instead, the prosecution may offer:
- A drinking in a vehicle charge
- An open container and a separate traffic infraction
In both these cases, the prosecution is only likely to offer these plea bargains if there are substantial questions about the evidence. Faulty evidence might include poorly maintained breathalyzers, mishandling of chemical tests, or unreliable police testimony.
The best plea bargains come from successful negotiations with the prosecution. A skilled DUI lawyer knows how to attack the evidence for the best leverage in these negotiations. If you’d like to see what the right lawyer can do for your case, call (310) 896-2724 today.