California is strict when it comes to individuals drinking and driving. To ensure that people are discouraged from drinking on-the-go, the law is broad on what constitutes an open container. Cups are among some of the covered receptacles that can result in an open container charge.
An open container in a vehicle is an invitation for the police to initiate a DUI investigation and can be powerful evidence used against you in court. If you’re facing an open container or DUI charges, having a skilled DUI lawyer by your side can be the best way to ensure you get the justice you deserve. To connect with a knowledgeable DUI lawyer, call (310) 896-2724 and schedule your free consultation.
California Vehicle Code 23222
California Vehicle Code 23222 sets out the definition for an “open container” according to the state. To be found in violation of the law, the container must:
- Be found in a vehicle on public roads
- Be accessible to the driver while the car’s in motion
- Be open, even if it is resealed
Under the statute, the container can be “a bottle, can, or other receptacle,” so long as it has been used to hold alcohol. The alcohol does not need to present in the receptacle when it is discovered. Empty beer cans, bottles of whiskey, or hip flasks may constitute an open container. Cups that are carrying alcohol, or that show signs of having carried alcohol recently, may be found to be in violation of the statute.
Penalties for Violating the Open Container Statute
An open container, by itself, is a simple infraction. As an infraction, it carries with it no penalty beyond a fine. If found guilty of carrying an open container on a public road, you may be fined no more than $250.
This penalty assumes that you are at least 21 years old. If you are under 21, Vehicle Code 23222 doesn’t apply. Instead, you will be charged under Vehicle Code 23224. The statute, which forbids possession of open or closed alcohol for minors in almost all circumstances, calls for violators to face a maximum of:
- $1,000 in fines
- Six months in a county jail
- License suspension of one year
- 30-day car impoundment
These penalties are assessed against people under the age of 21 because California treats a violation of Vehicle Code 23224 as a criminal misdemeanor.
Cups and Probable Cause
One common tactic by police officers is to use an open container to initiate a DUI investigation. If an officer sees a cup in a vehicle that appears to contain any traces of alcoholic beverage, even if there is no beverage left in the cup, the officer can have the legal authority necessary to seek additional evidence of wrongdoing. A cup or other receptacle that is readily visible to the officer can provide probable cause to search your vehicle.
An open container also can be used to justify a DUI arrest. If an officer claims that they witnessed you driving erratically and found a cup they believed to contain alcohol, they may have the legal grounds necessary to arrest you for a DUI. Once arrested for a DUI, you:
- Are required to submit to chemical tests to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC)
- Initiate a criminal process that can take months to resolve and will impact you for years to come
- Face an automatic license suspension from the DMV that you have only 10 days to contest
Challenging Probable Cause
A key tenant of having probable cause is that the officer must be able to show that you were likely engaging in criminal behavior. Having a cup in your car is not sufficient to justify the probable cause standard on its own, particularly if your vehicle was already parked when the officer arrived.
If you were found drinking in the passenger seat of a vehicle on private property, the officer is not likely to have probable cause for either an open container infraction or a DUI charge. Any such charge could be dismissed quickly, particularly if you have a skilled DUI lawyer representing you.
If you’re facing an open container or DUI charge, you deserve to have a thorough evaluation of your case by an experienced DUI lawyer. By calling (310) 896-2724 or using the contact form on this website, we can help you schedule a free consultation with a leading DUI lawyer. The strongest defenses take time to build, so call today!