When it comes to drinking and driving, California takes things seriously. Even if you aren't caught drinking and driving, there are a number of other unlawful activities involving alcohol and driving that can result in citations or criminal charges. Under California Vehicle Code 23223, no driver or passenger can have an open container of alcohol in their possession. This includes containers with broken seals or with any liquid removed. Similarly, if is unlawful to drink while driving, even if you are not over the legal blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, limit. It is important to note that you can have open containers in non-passenger areas, such as a truck or pick up bed. So if you do need to transport an open container of alcohol, keep it in clearly non-passenger areas. An important exception is that it is lawful to drive while a passenger has an open container of alcohol if they are in the back of a limo, trailer, bus or other similar transport vehicle. In all other cases, it does not matter whether the open container is in the immediate possession of your passenger or just in a passenger occupied area, like a cup holder. What is unlawful about you driving while a passenger is drinking is have an open container of alcohol in your car, not that your passenger was drinking it. The punishment for driving with an open container of alcohol will vary based on the circumstances.
For those over 21 years of age, just driving with an open container of alcohol in the car will result in an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $250, plus fees and penalties. As long as you were not driving under the influence and over the legal limit, you can walk away with just an infraction. An infraction is technically handled under the criminal justice system however it not seen as a criminal conviction the same way a misdemeanor or felony is. Infractions are the lowest punishment for an unlawful activity. Infractions are punishable by a fine and no jail time or probation, if that fine is paid. Many other traffic violations, such as speeding or running a red light, are infractions as well. You can contest infractions and can hire a traffic attorney to help you do so. If you were not, or could not have been, aware of the open container, you may have a defense in court. Similarly, if you had the open container in a clearly non-passenger area, such as a trunk, you may be able to have the charge dropped. Those under 21 years of age, however, can face a misdemeanor criminal charge for knowingly driving with an open container, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. However, it is lawful to drive with an open container when there is an authorized adult supervisor present, such as a parent, relative, caretaker or other responsible adult figure. It is also lawful to drive with an open container if you are doing so under explicit instruction from your work supervisor and are transporting the alcohol in the regular course of employment. In all other cases, you can be criminally prosecuted for driving with an open container of alcohol while under 21 years of age. If you are facing charges of driving with an open container and you are under 21 years of age, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. If you were instructed by a parent, guardian or relative to transport the alcohol or you were on the job, you may have a strong defense in court. A misdemeanor charge will stay on your record for a long time to come and is worth it to fight. So, depending on your age, you can face either a citation or a misdemeanor charge for driving with an open container in your car. In general, it is always a good idea to keep open containers in the truck or other non-passenger area if you have to transport them and never drink or let your passenger drink while you are driving.
Are your or a loved one facing charges of driving with an open container of alcohol in Tulare, Kings or Fresno County area? Visalia criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens can best advise you on how to proceed with your case. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, every client gets the respect they deserve and will not be afraid to take your case all the way. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss strategic options for your fighting your charges.