Like most states, California has prohibited the possession and consumption of an open container of alcohol in public places as well as in automobiles. If a person has an open container is on the streets, they may only be given a ticket. However, if an open container is in a car, the penalties are much more severe.
Open Container in Public in California
Drinking on the streets is only allowed in a few cities in America, including the Las Vegas Strip, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In other places, enforcement of open container laws is more relaxed, and police turn a blind eye to people drinking in public, so long as they are well-behaved, or have their drink covered by a paper bag. However, in most towns and cities here in the East Bay, the police are happy to issue a ticket to someone drinking a beer on the street.
Under California law, BPC 25620, it is an infraction for any person to possess an open container of alcohol in any public place. This applies to any can, bottle or other receptacle which has been opened, or seal was broken, or the contents have been partially removed. “Public” applies to any city or county park, city or county owned public place, recreational district or open space district.
There are two exceptions, where a license was issued to possess alcohol, such as obtaining a license for a party at a park where beer would be present; or where possession of the alcohol container was for the purpose of recycling; such as carrying a bag of empty beer cans to redeem their CRV (California Redemption Value).
Underage Open Container of Alcohol
If someone under the age of 21 is caught with alcohol, whether open or not, they will face charges for underage drinking. BPC 25662 prohibits anyone under 21 years of age to possess any alcoholic beverage. This violation is punishable as a misdemeanor with a possible fine of $250, and up to 32 hours of community service.
There are additional penalties which can follow a conviction for underage possession. Even if the violation took place nowhere near a car, they may face a one year suspension of their driver's license, or a delay in the time they can obtain a license. There are limited exceptions, such as delivering alcohol to a parent. Another exception includes if the underage person was seeking medical help for themselves or another underage person for drinking alcohol.
Open Container in a Vehicle
Open container violations in a motor vehicle are much more serious, and the police will rarely turn a blind eye to a driver found with an open alcohol container in their car. This is usually because any open container in the car will make the police suspect possible DUI. An open container will often lead to a DUI arrest, even if the driver is not impaired.
Vehicle Code sections 23221 through 23229 apply to containers of alcohol in the car. Specifically:
Under VC 23221, no driver OR passenger shall drink any alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle upon a highway.
Under VC 23222, no person in a motor vehicle can have any bottle, can or other receptacle containing any alcoholic beverage which has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents partially removed. Even if no one is drinking the alcohol, it is a violation simply to have an open alcohol container in the car.
Under VC 23224, no driver under 21 can be in a vehicle with any alcohol container, either open or closed. An exception applies when the alcohol is accompanied by a parent, or was being transported for a parent, responsible adult, or as part of the driver's job.
California Open Container in Vehicle Penalties
Penalties will depend on the situation, but could include a fine of up to $250. For driver's under 21 with alcohol in the vehicle, they may be charged with a misdemeanor, face up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, and have their car impounded.
Where Alcohol Can Be Carried in the Car
Open alcohol containers cannot be transported in the passenger compartment, this includes the glove box. Under the vehicle code, open containers can only be kept in the trunk of the vehicle. If the vehicle doesn't have a trunk, it can be carried in an area not normally occupied by the driver or passengers, such as the bed of a truck. If the car doesn't have a trunk, or a truck bed, it can be carried in a locked container.
Drinking in a Taxi or Motor Home
Vehicle Code 23229 provides a limited exception to open containers and drinking alcohol in some types of vehicles. This includes buses, taxi cabs, limousines for hire as well as the living quarters of a camper. Of course, with these exceptions, it is still illegal for the driver to be drinking, or to be in possession of an open container. Taxi and bus companies, may have their own policies when it comes to open containers, and rideshare businesses such as Lyft, have an express policy against passengers drinking and open containers).
Defenses to California Open Container Charges
A lawyer experienced in defending people with alcohol related charges will be able to identify which defenses to use, to get charges reduced or dropped. This may include: the police did not have probable cause to search the vehicle, the alcohol was not in the passenger compartment, or the driver was licensed to transport passengers for hire.
Experienced Open Container Lawyer:
If you are arrested for driving with an open container of alcohol anywhere in Alameda County or Contra Costa County, including Brentwood, Danville, Albany or Piedmont, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the state and local alcohol and DUI laws. She knows the local prosecutors, judges, and officers involved. With over 30 years of experience in DUI and other alcohol-related charges, Lynn Gorelick understands the law and the science required to fight driving open container and other DUI charges.