While you likely know that you are prohibited from driving while you are drinking or have used drugs, you might wonder whether it is legal for passengers to drink alcohol while they are riding in vehicles. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for a passenger or a driver to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle regardless of whether you are actually drinking from it. The legal team at DiCindio Law can defend you if you have been charged under Pennsylvania’s open container law.
Open container laws
A majority of the states have open container laws that prohibit open containers, including bottles and cans, of alcoholic beverages in vehicles. In Pennsylvania, the open container law is codified at 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 3809. Under this statute, drivers and passengers are both prohibited from having open containers of alcoholic beverages in their vehicles. It does not matter if the driver or the passenger is actually drinking alcohol from the container at the time of the stop.
Forty-three states, including Pennsylvania, have open container laws, and 40 have laws that follow the standards outlined in the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. This law mandates a variety of different traffic safety measures, including the enactment of open container laws.
Drivers may be cited under the open container law if they have an alcoholic container on them or within their reach. Passengers who have open containers may also be cited. If a passenger has an open container, both the passenger and the driver may be cited under the open container statute in Pennsylvania.
Is the legal use of alcohol a defense?
You can’t defend against a violation of the open container law simply because you are legally permitted to drink alcohol. The prosecution simply has to prove that you violated the law or had an open container of alcohol in your vehicle.
The law also prohibits passengers and drivers from consuming drugs in a motor vehicle. This includes any drug that is defined in the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act. This means that a passenger who is prescribed medical marijuana cannot ingest it while he or she is riding in someone else’s car.
Open container exceptions
Every state that has an open container law also has exceptions to it. State exceptions to open container laws can be divided into two main categories, including the following:
- Certain areas of the vehicles- Open containers typically can be kept in the vehicle’s trunk or an area that is not easily accessible to the passengers or driver.
- Certain types of vehicles- Many states permit storing open containers in the living areas of motor homes. Many states also allow passengers to drink alcohol and to have open containers in limousines, party buses, or taxis. Some states also permit you to transport an open container of wine home from a restaurant. However, in states where this exception exists, you will still be required to store your wine bottle in your trunk or in another area that is not accessible.
In Pennsylvania, there is not an exception listed in the law for transporting open containers in your trunk or in an area that is not easily accessible. The law does include two exceptions, however. You are allowed to have alcohol in the living area of a motor home or trailer. You can also have an open container in a taxi, party bus, or limousine that is a for-hire vehicle.
Penalties for violating the open container law
An open container offense is punishable as a summary offense, which is the lowest level of offense in Pennsylvania. If you are convicted of violating the open container law, you can face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300.
Why you should get help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer
If you have been charged with a violation of the open container law, it is a good idea for you to seek help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer at DiCindio Law. Just because you have been charged does not mean that you will necessarily be convicted. Our attorneys will review the facts and circumstances of your stop to determine the potential defenses that might be available to you. If we identify problems with how the stop and search of your vehicle were conducted by the police officer, we may be able to file evidentiary motions to suppress the evidence against you.
Law enforcement officers must have probable cause to believe that you had an open container in your vehicle. They cannot conduct an illegal search of your vehicle in order to discover evidence to use against you. If the officer in your case conducted an illegal search, we may be able to have the search and the evidence against you deemed to be inadmissible. This could lead to a dismissal of the charge against you. Even if the officer conducted the search in a lawful manner, we might still be able to identify other potential defenses to raise on your behalf. Contact DiCindio Law today to schedule a consultation so that you can learn more about your case and the potential defenses that might be available to you.