You support recycling and environmental action, so you always take your empty cans and bottles back to turn them in. It’s just one way that you do your part for the planet.

However, you know about open container laws in California. You cannot drive with open containers of alcohol in the car. If the police pull you over while you’re taking some empties back, are they going to assume you have been drinking and driving?

They may. After all, since recycling is one of the common exceptions to the law, people have tried to use it as an excuse. Rather than admitting that they drank while driving, they try to say they’re just bringing back some returns. The police may be skeptical, even when you make this claim honestly.

What you can do to avoid any legal trouble is simple: Keep your bottles and cans out of reach. Put them in paper bags and lock them in the trunk of your car. Never drive with them in the passenger seat or even the back seat. Doing that may be faster and easier, but it opens the door to police suspicion because, technically, you now have open containers within arm’s reach. When you lock them in the trunk, it is clear that you had no way to access them while you were behind the wheel.

Simple mistakes can lead to arrests and even legal charges. If you do get arrested, especially when you think you did not really do anything wrong, it is important to understand all of the legal defense options you have. Remember that you have a right to a lawyer and a fair trial.