In Pennsylvania, most people think of DUIs when they think about alcohol-related traffic offenses. However, driving with an open container of any amount of alcohol in your vehicle can also result in charges. While an open container by itself is not enough to result in drunk driving charges, having an open container in your vehicle will likely result in the officer who stopped your vehicle conducting a DUI investigation. Depending on the results of the investigation, you might be charged for both the open container and a DUI, leading to greater potential penalties. Here is some information about how an open container might affect a DUI charge from criminal defense lawyer Michael DiCindio of DiCindio Law.
Open Container Laws in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania prohibits having an open container in a vehicle under 75 Pa. C.S. § 3809. Under this statute, drivers and passengers are prohibited from carrying open containers of alcohol in their vehicles. This law applies whether your vehicle is parked or moving, and you do not have to be consuming alcohol from the container to violate the law.
An open container includes any alcoholic beverage that has a broken seal, has been opened, or has had a portion of its contents removed. Even if you are sober, it is still illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment of your car.
The open container law does not prohibit you from transporting open containers outside of the passenger compartment of your vehicle. For example, you could transport an open bottle of wine in your trunk or in a locked container out of your reach.
What Are the Penalties for Violating the Open Container Law?
A violation of the open container law is a summary offense. If you are convicted, you will face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to a maximum of $300. If you are also charged with and convicted of a DUI offense, the open container penalties will be in addition to the penalties you might face for the DUI.
How Can an Open Container Lead to a DUI?
Having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle is not enough by itself to result in a DUI charge. However, an open container of alcohol can be used as evidence that you might have been drinking and driving. If there is other evidence indicative of impairment by alcohol, you could also be charged with a DUI.
An officer cannot pull you over unless he or she reasonably suspects that you have committed a crime or traffic offense. For example, an officer might pull you over for speeding, swerving, having a broken taillight, having a headlight out, or other similar things. If you are pulled over, the officer will walk to your car. He or she will be peering inside and observing you and the objects in your vehicle to check for anything suspicious. If the officer suspects that you might be under the influence based on your driving and/or observations he or she makes while talking to you, he or she will ask you to step out of your vehicle and perform field sobriety tests.
If an officer spots an open container of alcohol within your reach in the passenger area of your vehicle, he or she will likely search your car. When the officer suspects you might be under the influence and sees an open bottle of alcohol, he or she can search your car and seize the open container without a warrant.
Some of the things that officers look for when they approach your vehicle and talk to you that might indicate you are under the influence of alcohol include the following:
- Bloodshot, watery eyes
- Slurred speech
- Slowed movements
- Clumsy movements
- Motor control problems
- Odor of alcohol
- Bottles or cans of alcohol in clear sight from outside of your car
- Drugs/drug paraphernalia in clear sight from outside of your car
While you are not required to perform the standardized field sobriety tests, if you do submit to them, the officer will look for additional indicators of impairment as you perform them. He or she might also ask you to blow into a portable breath test device. However, the PBT is not required. However, if you are placed under arrest and transported to the station for a chemical test, you will have to take the breathalyzer or blood test or face the penalties for the highest BAC DUI and have your license suspended administratively.
If the officer believes that he or she has probable cause that you are under the influence of alcohol, he or she will arrest you for a DUI and refer your case to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor will then file charges for the DUI and will also likely stack the open container charge with it.
Driving Drunk With an Open Container
In Pennsylvania, you are prohibited from driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. It is also illegal to drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of a vehicle when your driving is impaired by any amount of alcohol. If you are caught with an open container, the officer will likely suspect that you may be driving while impaired by alcohol and conduct a DUI investigation. The penalties you might face for the DUI will depend on your BAC and any prior offenses within the past 10 years. Depending on your BAC and your record, a misdemeanor DUI could carry as much as five years in prison, substantial fines, and other penalties. If you are convicted of both the DUI and the open container violation, the fine and potential jail for the open container could be added to the sentence you receive for the DUI.
Get Help From DiCindio Law
If you are facing charges for an open container and a DUI, you should reach out to DiCindio Law to learn about your charges and the penalties you might face. Call us today at (610) 430-3535.