You’re sitting at home on a Friday night with no plans of going out, but then your phone buzzes. It’s a text from one of your friends, telling you to come over for a drink.
You decide to go, but you know your friend’s taste in alcohol, and it’s not the same as your own. There’s likely to be nothing but beer at the house, and you prefer bourbon.
Since you didn’t know you were going and couldn’t plan ahead, you don’t have any unopened bottles of bourbon in the house. You do have a half-full bottle from last weekend, though. You haven’t been drinking at all, but you grab the bottle, toss it in the passenger seat of the car, and start driving to your friend’s house.
On the way, you swerve for a cat that runs across the road. Flashing lights flip on behind you, painting the inside of your car in red and blue. You pull over, and the officer comes up and says that he or she thought you may be intoxicated because of the way you swerved. You’re not, and your BAC comes in at 0.00 when you take the breath test, but then the officer spots the half-full bottle of bourbon on the seat next to you.
Sober as you are, you get a ticket for having an open container.
Is this legal?
It feels very unfair. You know that open container laws are to prevent people from drinking and driving, but you weren’t drinking and driving. You were just transporting the alcohol to your friend’s house, where you were going to drink it safely and responsibly. You never drink an entire bottle in one sitting, so you’re naturally going to have these half-full bottles at the house. Do you really have to buy a sealed one any time you want to go somewhere else?
You do. Open container laws give police the power to hand out tickets to people simply for having these containers in the vehicle, even if they haven’t been drinking. Likewise, a driver can get a citation if a passenger is drinking in the car and has an open container, even if the driver hasn’t been drinking at all.
That doesn’t mean there’s no way around this. For example, if you order an entire bottle of wine at a restaurant and there is some left over, they’ll put the bottle into a sealed bag for you to take home. You may also be able to transport the alcohol in the trunk of the car, meaning your real mistake was tossing it on the passenger seat next to you.
As you can see, it’s very important to understand the letter of the law. Even if what you’re doing seems logical and safe, you could face charges for a simple oversight. When this happens, be sure you know all of the legal defense options that you have.