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Open Container Law in California – Vehicle Code 23222(a)

Believe it or not, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle in Los Angeles, California. 

Basically, what the police and legislature are trying to stop here is people who are drinking alcohol while in a vehicle.

This falls under the gambit of driving under the influence, but we see a lot of cases where passengers are drinking alcohol.  Police see them.  They try to hide the bottle.  They try to hide a cup or a can, whatever the case may be.

The police come up and find the open bottle of alcohol.  Maybe the bottle is half drank or maybe there's just a sip taken out of it. 

Believe it or not, they can charge a Vehicle Code Section 23222(a), which is the open container section, even if the whole bottle or can of alcohol is consumed.

Prohibits Having an Open Container of Alcohol in Your Car

Because a lot of people will drink the whole thing when they see the police or they'll pour it on the carpet of the interior of the car. 

So, in order to prevent this type of activity, being able to stop somebody for being charged with an open container, the law allows it even if there's nothing in the bottle.

Open Container Law in California - Vehicle Code 23222(a)

Nothing in the can or nothing in the container that the police ultimately get their hands on.  So, long story short, you cannot have an open container of alcohol in your car.

I've even seen situations where people are driving and they haven't drank anything, no passengers have drank anything and they just have an empty bottle of alcohol in the car.

Technically, that would be possession of an open container  Now, there are exceptions to this. 

There could be a scenario where somebody has the open container in the drunk where nobody can reach it.  The passenger can't get it.  The driver can't get it.

That would likely be a lawful scenario.  Also, if you're in a limousine, there's an exception for that — if you have a car for hire and you're drinking in there.

It seems to say that you could drink in a taxi, but this is a much more murky area of the law and a much more dangerous area of the law.  The bottom line is, you want to be in a situation where you're in a limo to have a good argument that you're not violating the open container law.

Under Age of 21 with Open Container

If you're under the age of 21 and you get caught with an open container, it's obvious much more serious because you can lose your driver's license even if you're not the one driving.

So, this open container law is meant to punish both passengers and drivers of vehicles who are consuming alcohol.  It really has to do with controlling driving under the influence because if people could just have alcohol accessible to them while they're in a vehicle this is going to temp them to drink alcohol and drive, and it's obviously very unsafe on the streets and this is what the legislature is trying to look out for.

So, if you've got an open container case and you think you might have a defense to it, your best bet is to sit down with somebody like me who's been doing these type of cases — Vehicle Code Violations/DUI now for over 25 years.

I know all of the ins-and-outs.  I know when the police have the goods on you and I know when they don't have the goods on you.  If it's a murky gray area, then obviously we're going to figure out what we can do to mitigate, do damage control, protect your criminal record.

Nobody wants to have anything on their record, especially for something as small as driving around with an open container.

Open Container Creates Probable Cause for Police to Stop Vehicle

Really, usually what this open container does for law enforcement is it gives them the ability to stop cars. 

So, people are drinking and driving in a card, they do what we call “wave the flag” where the police see them with alcohol.  They quickly hide it.

That just gives them a justification to stop the car.  So, that's another reason not to drink alcohol inside of a car.  People will go into a park, on the side of a street, in a dark area and drink alcohol.  This just again gives the police an excuse to come up, shine their flashlight, search the car, search the vehicle. 

So, this is a nice little weapon for the police to be able to find other crimes.

One good thing is, believe it or not, in a private location,  like a private parking lot or a dirt road that's not a public road, you might have the argument that you are able to have an open container in that scenario versus being on a public road. 

You definitely cannot have an open container on a public road.

So, if you have one of theses situations, pick up the phone.  Make the call and we'll do everything we can to help you.

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