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Unopened Alcohol in Car is Illegal? (Depends Where You Live!)

In many places, it is legal to transport unopened alcohol in your car as long as it is stored in an area of the vehicle that is not accessible to the driver, such as the trunk or a locked glove compartment. However, it’s essential to check the specific laws in your area, as regulations can differ from place to place.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

According to SCLG, in many jurisdictions, it’s permissible for individuals over 21 years old to have unopened alcohol in their car [1]. However, if you’re under 21, possessing alcohol, even if unopened, is against the law.

The only exception for under 21 drivers is the transport of unopened alcohol at the direction of a parent, guardian, or approved employer.

When it comes to open containers of alcohol, the rules shift.

Open Container Laws

Understanding the Legalities of Open Containers in Vehicles

Determining if a container is “open” – “A container is considered to be open if its seal has been broken and/or you are able to drink from it in its current state. If a container can be completely resealed, such as a wine bottle, it might not be considered open, though the rules on this can be fairly specific.

Legal Restrictions – In most states, it’s illegal for both drivers and passengers to possess open containers of alcohol in a vehicle, whether it’s in motion or parked along a roadside. This means even if you’re not driving, having open bottles of alcohol in your car can lead to legal consequences.

Ownership of Open Containers – Open containers found in a vehicle are usually attributed to the driver unless a passenger has clear possession and control of the container, such as holding it.

Exceptions to the Law – There are a few exceptions to Florida’s open container law:

  • Passengers in commercial vehicles with drivers possessing proper commercial licenses may have open containers.
  • Passengers in motor homes at least 21 feet long are allowed to have open containers.
  • Taking a sealed bottle of wine from a restaurant is permissible if it’s properly resealed by the restaurant, placed in a bag with a receipt, and stored in the glove compartment or trunk.

Penalties for Violations –  Penalties for open container violations can vary based on who possessed the container and the jurisdiction. In Florida, counties and cities can impose stricter penalties than the federal standard.

For drivers, having an open container is a non-criminal moving traffic violation, potentially resulting in fines up to $100 or more, along with possible jail time and license marks. For passengers, it’s a non-moving traffic violation, with fines possibly reaching $50 or higher, and could also lead to jail time depending on the county.

Seek Legal Advice – If you’re facing charges related to open container violations, consulting with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can provide clarity on your rights and legal options. They can offer guidance tailored to your specific situation and help navigate the legal process effectively.

Also Read: Guns in Cars: Safe Storage & Legal Considerations

If you are not driving while an officer approaches your vehicle, you may be wondering whether or not this may constitute as a DUI. Under Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles, you can be convicted of DUI if you are sitting in a parked car, if and only if it can be proven that you were, at one point, driving while intoxicated.

Law enforcement typically employs various sobriety tests, including breath or blood tests, to assess intoxication levels. Despite the seemingly circumstantial nature of evidence, it can still be utilized to establish a case against you. Ultimately, it’s at the discretion of the officer to gather evidence indicating that you were operating the vehicle.

Furthermore, before initiating a stop or detainment, officers must have probable cause, necessitating reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. Factors such as warm tires or engine, the vehicle’s position on the road, signs of recent collision, gear set in drive, sole occupancy in the car without explanation for the driver’s absence, or keys in the ignition may contribute to establishing probable cause.

While these factors aren’t exhaustive, they exemplify the types of evidence that could be utilized in such situations.

The Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

.02 Some loss of judgment; relaxation, slight body warmth, altered mood Decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target), decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)
.05 Exaggerated behavior, may have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes), impaired judgment, usually good feeling, lowered alertness, release of inhibition Reduced coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, reduced response to emergency driving situations
.08 Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing), harder to detect danger; judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impaired Concentration, short-term memory loss, speed control, reduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search), impaired perception
.10 Clear deterioration of reaction time and control, slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinking Reduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately
.15 Far less muscle control than normal, vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance for alcohol), major loss of balance Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing
Table describing BAC and typical effects of various BAC levels

Source: U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) [2].

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If you feel affected by any of these matters, contact our criminal defense attorney today.

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