Possession of an Open Container

California law as to driving while in possession of an open container of alcohol or marijuana

California laws that which prohibit the same conduct:  driving (or riding in) a car with an open container with an alcoholic beverage.  The following are a list of common ones:

      • Vehicle Code 23221 VC – drinking in a car,
      • Vehicle Code 23222(a) VC – possessing an open container in a car,
      • Vehicle Code 23224 VC – possession of an open container in a car by a person under 21,
      • Vehicle Code 23225 VC – storing open containers in a trunk,
      • Vehicle Code 23226 VC – storing open containers in the passenger compartment,
      • Vehicle Code 23229 VC – exceptions for in-hire vehicles, and
      • Vehicle Code 23229.1 VC – prohibition of in-hire vehicles from storing alcohol when transporting persons under 21.

The word “open” doesn’t mean that there is no top on the beverage, but rather that it has been opened previously, had the seal broken or was partially or entirely consumed.

If there were more than one person in the vehicle and there was one open container, the container must be shown to be possessed by you or in your control. If the prosecutor can’t prove you being in possession or in control of the container, it will be hard to prove your guilt.

Defenses:

      • Container wasn’t yours
      • Container was discovered after an illegal search or without probable cause and not in open plain site
      • Container was in a licensed vehicle such as a limousine, bus, camper, house car, or another form of chauffeured vehicle
      • Container was in the trunk
      • Container was in another locked container

Exposure/Penalty:

      • Infraction–means no jail time
      • $100 fine or possible community service

If you are under 21, the legal age for drinking alcohol in California, Vehicle Code 23224 VC, California’s law on underage possession of alcohol in a vehicle law, prohibits you from

      • driving a car knowing that it contains any alcoholic beverage (whether opened or unopened), or
      • being a passenger in a car and knowingly possessing an alcoholic beverage (again, regardless of whether it is opened or unopened).

You may have defenses if you or the underage passenger were;

      • accompanied by a parent or guardian
      • were following reasonable directions from a parent or guardian about what to do with the alcohol, or
      • were driving or riding as a passenger in a car and you were transporting the alcohol pursuant to the course and scope of your lawful employment.

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