In the state of California, it is illegal to drive with an open alcoholic container in your vehicle. Vehicle code sections 23221-23229 are referred to as California’s open container laws, as an Orange County open container crime attorney is aware.
So what is an Open Container? An open container is one that has a broken seal or has been opened. This law applies even if the alcohol hasn’t been consumed. This is the most common alcohol-related offense where the driver is not charged with a DUI.
The open-container law also makes it illegal to drive with more than one ounce of marijuana or other concentrated cannabis.
The open-container laws do not pertain to containers that are stored in the trunk of the vehicle. If the vehicle has no trunk, the open container may be kept in an area of the vehicle that is not normally occupied by the driver or passengers. But what if you drive a hatchback, for example? The law is ambiguous, as an open container crime lawyer in Orange County can explain, but the California Appellate Court has held that the open container law "permit(s) individuals who drive a car without a trunk to carry an open container in the bed of a pickup truck, in a roof storage rack, or in any other similar area not normally occupied by the driver or passengers while precluding the driver and his passengers from having access to an opened alcoholic beverage container without having to stop the car and retrieve the container."Punishment
Driving with an open container in vehicle is usually an infraction punishable by a fine. However, the law applies differently and more severely if you are a driver or a passenger under the age of 21. In this case, you may be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum of $1,000 fine. Having a misdemeanor open container conviction may also expose those under the age of 21 to a DMV-ordered suspension of your driving privilege for one year. An open container crime attorney in Orange County can help you try to avoid or minimize these penalties.Defenses
If you have been charged with an open container violation, the charge can usually be challenged in one of two ways:
Was the opened container in a trunk or other area not accessible to the driver or passengers?
Was the search of the vehicle a lawful search? The law does not allow a non-consensual search of a vehicle unless the officer can demonstrate probable cause to suspect there is evidence of a crime in the vehicle or on other specific grounds that the search was incident to a lawful arrest, the search was necessitated by an emergency, or the evidence of a violation (the open container) or crime was in plain sight. An illegal search can be challenged in the court and if the court rules the search unlawful, that effectively ends the charges as the evidence of the violation (the open container) cannot be admitted as evidence.
If you are under the age of 21, be aware that there are serious implications to this seemingly simple charge. If you believe you have a defense to the charge, it is well-worth your time to contact an Orange County open container crime lawyer with experience in this area of law to evaluate your chances of defending the charge. As an Orange County DUI Defense attorney, practicing juvenile and criminal law in Orange County, CA for over 20 years I will be able to quickly assess your case and advise you on your best approach.