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What Are the Penalties for Having an Open Alcohol Container in Your Car?

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What Are the Penalties for Having an Open Alcohol Container in Your Car?When it comes to criminal law, alcohol does not mix well with driving. Drivers should know that it is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol, which California defines as having a blood alcohol concentration that is greater than 0.08 percent. It can also be illegal to possess an alcoholic beverage in a vehicle, depending on where the beverage is and what has been done with it. Violating the open container law in California is not as serious as being convicted for DUI, but the consequences can eventually add up to more serious penalties.

Defining Open Containers

An open container violation can occur if a police officer notices a container in plain view inside of a vehicle or discovers it during an authorized vehicle search. California law deems an alcohol container to be open if:

  • The top has been opened
  • A seal has been broken
  • The container is partially or totally emptied

The officer does not need to catch you drinking the beverage or driving the vehicle to issue a citation for an open container violation.


An open container violation by itself is an infraction that does not reach the level of a misdemeanor. Violators can receive a maximum fine of $250 but no jail time. The infraction will add a point to your driving record, which can contribute towards a driver’s license suspension if you accumulate enough points within a year. An open alcohol container can also be used as evidence against you if you are charged with DUI.

The penalties are stiffer if a person younger than 21 violates the open container law because of California’s zero tolerance for underage alcohol possession. Possession by a minor is a misdemeanor offense and can result in up to six months of jail time, a maximum fine of $1,000, and a driver’s license revocation.


There are several arguments you can make in your defense if you are accused of an open container violation:

  • The container was not actually open.
  • The open container was in your trunk or another area of your vehicle that you could not immediately access.
  • The officer lacked reasonable suspicion when stopping you or probable cause to search your vehicle.
  • You were inside a vehicle that is allowed to have open containers, such as a taxi, bus, limousine, or camper.

Contact a Richmond, California, DUI Defense Lawyer

An open container infraction may not seem worth contesting because of the minimal penalty, but it will leave a mark on your driving record. Contact a Napa, California, DUI defense attorney at Burglin Law Office, P.C., to discuss what you should do about the alleged infraction. You can schedule a free phone consultation by calling 415-729-7300.



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