Getting a few drinks while you are out at a restaurant or bar is not illegal in Pennsylvania. However, if you drink too much, you will need to get a different ride home instead of driving yourself. Even when you have not drunk too much while you are out at a restaurant, bar, or other location to prevent you from driving, you should avoid taking an open container of alcohol with you in your car. Transporting an open container of alcohol in a vehicle is illegal in Pennsylvania under most circumstances. If you have been charged under the state’s open container law, the attorney at DiCindio Law is available to help you.
What are open container laws?
Open container laws vary from state to state. Some states do not have open container laws. Others prohibit the driver from having an open container of alcohol but do not prohibit the passengers from having containers of alcohol. Some states have open container laws that give a blanket prohibition against all of the occupants of vehicles.
A violation of an open container law occurs when someone possesses an open container of alcohol in the compartment of a moving vehicle. Open container laws may prohibit transporting open containers of alcohol in all areas of the vehicle or in areas that are easily accessible to the drivers or passengers, including glove compartments and consoles. Open container laws prohibit transporting open containers of all types of alcohol. This means that you might want to avoid taking home the remainder of a bottle of wine that you purchased with your dinner.
Differences in state open container laws
The primary difference in the open container laws of various states is whether the state completely bans transporting open containers of alcohol or instead has a partial ban that applies to the driver but not a passenger. The District of Columbia and 40 states have laws that completely ban possessing and consuming alcohol in motor vehicles for both passengers and drivers.
What is an open container of alcohol?
Open containers include any container that has been unsealed and that contains alcohol. Open containers might include bottles, flasks, cans, or any other type of container that contains alcoholic beverages.
Open containers under federal law
The U.S. Congress passed a federal law in 1998 to encourage states to enact laws banning people from having open containers of alcohol anywhere in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle. This law was named the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. It gives states a monetary incentive to enact laws that meet the federal standard of banning open containers of alcohol anywhere in vehicles.
The open container law in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s open container law can be found at Tit. 75 § 3809. Under this law, drivers and passengers of motor vehicles are prohibited from possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage or a controlled substance in a vehicle that is located on a highway of the state. If you are found to have violated the state’s open container law, it is a summary offense. A conviction can result in a fine of up to $300, a jail sentence of up to 90 days, or both a fine and jail sentence.
Pennsylvania does have two exceptions to this law. Passengers who are located in motor vehicles that are used, maintained, or designed to transport people in exchange for compensation are excepted. This means that you can lawfully carry open containers of alcohol with you in a taxi, limousine, or bus if the company allows you to do so. The second exception is for people who are in the living areas of a recreational vehicle. However, the driver of the recreational vehicle may not possess or consume alcohol, and someone sitting in the passenger compartment of the recreational vehicle is likewise prohibited from having an open container in that area.
How open container violations are proven
Frequently, open container violations will be charged following a routine traffic stop or at a DUI checkpoint. If an offer sees an open counter inside of a vehicle during a traffic stop, the officer will be allowed to confiscate the container as evidence and charge the driver or passenger with an open container violation. These charges may sometimes be charged in addition to a DUI offense when a driver has an open container and is driving while impaired. If an officer pulls you over for a different reason such as having a burnt-out light and sees an open container in your vehicle when he or she approaches your window, the officer can confiscate the open container of alcohol and charge you with violating the open container law.
Potential defenses to open container charges
There might be a few potential defenses available to you when you have been charged with possessing an open container of alcohol. For example, you may have a defense if the beverage was not alcoholic. You may also have a defense if your vehicle was not being operated on a public highway. A defense might exist if the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that you had committed a traffic offense or crime at the time that he or she pulled your vehicle over. Some open container cases can be more difficult to defend against. When an obvious violation has occurred, you might need the help of an attorney to handle the charges against you.
Do you need to hire an attorney to defend against an open container violation?
If you are convicted of violating the state’s open container law, you could face a fine and a jail sentence. It might be a good idea to talk to an experienced DUI and criminal defense lawyer if you have been charged with an open container offense. DiCindio Law can be reached 24 hours per day. Contact our firm today by calling 610-430-3535 or by submitting your information on our online contact form
The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes to the law that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments or the most complete legal issues for all cases These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. It is intended solely for informational purposes.