Although you are likely aware of the illegality of drinking and driving, you may not be as familiar with the illegality of transporting an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a vehicle. People in a car that is parked are still in violation of the law. Whether or not you are 21 and allowed to consume alcoholic beverages is irrelevant to the law.
A driver may not necessarily be charged; only the individual who possesses or consumes the alcoholic beverage will be charged. It is important to note that this is not a strict liability law, which means that in order for you to be convicted, you must have been in possession of alcohol and have consumed it. The law also applies to motorcycles, ATVs, golf carts, and commercial vehicles (unless they have a specific permit). There are a few exemptions to this law such as:
- Living Quarters of Recreational Vehicles
- Motor Homes
- Other Vehicles for Hire
What is an Open Container?
Under North Carolina law, a container of alcohol is considered to be open if its seal is broken or if the alcohol has been in any way removed (i.e. an empty bottle of alcohol). It is not illegal to travel with closed containers (e.g. bottles or cans that have not been opened).
Open containers may, however, be transported in areas of the vehicle that are not easily accessed such as the trunk – even if the trunk is still accessible from the passenger area (such as in a hatchback vehicle).
Those in North Carolina who are charged and convicted of an open container violation will face a class 3 misdemeanor for the first offense, which carries a fine of up to $200 and up to 20 days in jail. The punishments increase for any subsequent offenses to $1,000 and 60 days respectively.
Those who are pulled over with an open container may also be suspected of driving while impaired and may be asked to submit to a breath test to determine their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). You can be charged (and convicted) for an open container violation as well as a DWI.
Defending Yourself from An Open Container Conviction
There are potential defenses to an open container charge including how the stop was conducted and how the evidence was discovered. Warrantless searches, lack of reasonable suspicion for stopping your vehicle, and lack of probable cause may also be defenses. At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we recognize the long-term consequences of a criminal conviction, including difficulty finding a job or getting approved for housing. That is why it is so important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney. We will work to establish defenses to your charges or even have charges dismissed altogether. To learn more about what your best options may be, or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!