You probably know that driving with an open alcoholic beverage in your vehicle is illegal, provided it’s not locked in the trunk, but you might not know the true consequences and complications involved with open container laws in California.
While most people assume getting caught while driving with an alcoholic beverage in hand is similar in severity to driving drunk, it’s actually drastically different. In fact, violating open container laws in California is only an infraction, meaning those who are caught will be issued a citation similar to a traffic ticket. While you might be able to fight the infraction with the help of DUI lawyers, Vista courts will not add these tickets to your criminal record and in most cases, you will probably find it is easier and cheaper to simply pay the fine.
That being said, if you have an open beverage in your vehicle, the officer who pulled you over will have reason to believe you are also driving under the influence, so you will most likely be asked to go through a variety of sobriety tests. If you have not been drinking, you will probably want to take these tests in order to get back on your way as soon as possible.
On the other hand, if you have been drinking and worry you will fail the sobriety tests, you may choose to skip the tests, even if it means getting arrested. Remember that if you are charged with drunk driving, having an open beverage in the car will already be used against you as evidence, so if you fail the sobriety tests, you will be providing the prosecution with even more proof of your guilt.
There is one case where having an open alcoholic beverage in your car will count as a misdemeanor though, and that is if you are under the age of 21. If you are a minor who was holding the alcohol as a passenger or driving, you may be charged with minor in possession of alcohol, a misdemeanor charge.
Any alcohol or drug conviction for a person under 21 years of age will result in the automatic loss of the person’s driver’s license for one year. The license suspension applies even if no vehicle was involved in the arrest incident. A minor caught in possession of alcohol at the beach or even inside a private residence is subject to a one year license suspension.
While most violations of open container laws in California are something adults will usually want to handle on their own, minor in possession charges are very serious and those accused of these offenses should always consult a lawyer like Peter M. Liss as soon as possible. You can schedule a free initial consultation at his office across the street from the Vista courthouse by calling (760) 643-4050.
Creative Commons Image by Chris Coyier