Open Container Laws

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | May 31, 2023 | California Law

California has several open container laws that can result in various penalties and punishments if violated. Understanding California open container laws and the need to consult a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer might help you avoid the most severe penalties.

Before we review specific open container offenses and the potential penalties for a conviction, it is important to understand what we mean by “open container.” Open does not mean that the lid must be off the container of alcohol to be charged with an offense.

“Open” refers to a container of alcohol that:

  • Has been opened
  • Is open without a lid
  • Has a broken seal
  • Has been partially or entirely consumed

Therefore, you could be charged with an open container offense in Los Angeles for having a bottle of alcohol in your car with a lid, but the seal has been broken.

Examples of California Open Container Laws

Numerous open container laws relate to having alcohol in a vehicle.

Examples of open container laws include, but are not limited to:

  • Driving while drinking alcohol (CVC §23221)
  • Possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle while driving (CVC §23222a)
  • Possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle by someone under 21 years old while driving a car or being in a car as a passenger (CVC §23224)
  • Drinking an alcoholic beverage as a passenger in a vehicle being driven on a highway (CVC §23221)
  • Keeping an open container that is not in the trunk of the vehicle while driving (CVC §23225)
  • Keeping an open container in a vehicle in the passenger area while driving (CVC §23226)

Generally, before the state can convict you of an open container offense, it has the burden of proving that you possessed or had control of the open container. However, possession or control can be difficult to prove if there is more than one person in a vehicle.

You should not take open container offenses lightly. Before deciding how to handle the charges, it is best to talk with a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. Open container offenses often accompany DUI charges, which could result in severe criminal penalties.

What Is the Penalty for Violating California’s Open Container Laws?

In most cases, open container laws are infractions. An infraction is punished by a fine of up to $250. However, infractions do not result in jail time.

The exception is the open container offense related to a person under 21 years old. Underage possession of alcohol is a misdemeanor offense. A conviction can result in a maximum fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, and a driver’s license suspension for one year.

Fighting Violations of Open Container Laws in California

It is possible to fight California open container charges. Depending on the circumstances of your case, there could be one or more defenses a lawyer might use.

Potential defenses to open container charges include, but are not limited to:

  • The alcohol was stored in the vehicle’s trunk or an area specified by law.
  • You are exempt from the open container law because you were a passenger in a taxi, bus, camper, housecar, or limousine, and no one in the vehicle was under 21 years old.
  • The open container was found during an illegal search and seizure.
  • There was no probable cause for the police officer to stop the vehicle.

Police officers and prosecutors do not tell you if you have a defense to criminal charges. Instead, they push for a defendant’s conviction.

You need an experienced lawyer to investigate the charges to determine if there is a valid defense that could result in a dismissal of charges. If your rights were violated, your attorney might be able to obtain a dismissal by filing a motion to suppress evidence.

Do I Need to Hire a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for an Open Container Violation?

Regardless of the charge, seeking legal counsel before pleading guilty to an open container violation is essential. Even if you are innocent, you should talk with a lawyer.

A conviction for an infraction will likely result in points against your driver’s license. Depending on your current situation, additional points could result in losing your driving privileges, increased insurance premiums, or other consequences.

Minors can also face consequences for violating California Business & Professions Code §25662. The code section prohibits anyone under 21 years old from possessing alcohol in any public place. In addition to an open container penalty, a minor could be sentenced with a fine, loss of driving privileges, and community service for violating this code section.

Therefore, before you plead guilty to an open container offense, talk with a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney about your case.

Contact the Los Angeles Criminal Defense Law Firm of The Rodriguez Law Group Today For Help

For more information please contact the Los Angeles Criminal Defense law firm of The Rodriguez Law Group for a free consultation, give us a call at (213) 995-6767 or visit our convenient location:

The Rodriguez Law Group – Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
626 Wilshire Blvd Suite 460, Los Angeles, CA 90017, United States