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NC Open Container Laws

Police patrol It can happen really quickly. You and your friends are having a great time, jump into the car, not really thinking.

As a driver, you may not notice one of them still has a beer or glass of wine in their hand. Even if you do and say something, after someone has a few on board they may respond, “What’s the big deal? I’m in the back seat. What can they do?”

Not that long ago, it was actually legal under the NC criminal laws for passengers to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. At one time even the driver could have an open container, they just couldn’t be impaired.

All that has changed now.

If there is an open can of beer, a glass of wine, or even a mixed drink, if police see that they are well within their legal rights to pull you over.

State Troopers (law enforcement), prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers take open container violations seriously. They carry consequences under the Sentencing Guidelines.

In fact, an open container violation technically is an implied consent offense.

NC Open Container Laws

In North Carolina, the criminal laws prohibit you from driving a vehicle with an open container of alcohol. That sounds fairly straight-forward, but what exactly does it mean? What is an “open container?”

Pursuant to NCGS § 20-138.7, you could be found in violation of NC open container law if you do the following:

  1. Drive a vehicle
  2. When you have an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of the vehicle
  3. The beverage is not in the manufacturer’s original sealed container, and
  4. You are consuming the beverage or have alcohol in your system.

A container of alcohol is considered to “open” if the seal is broken. This applies to beer, malt beverages, fortified and unfortified wine, liquor/spirits, and mixed drinks.

If the alcohol is in something other than the manufactures container, such as in a red solo cup, that counts as an open container too.

NC Alcohol Offenses

The “passenger area of a vehicle” is the area where the driver and passengers may be seated or the area within their reach. This includes the center console, cup holders, glove box, and anywhere within reaching distance of someone siting in any designated seat.

It’s important to note that the open container law applies to both drivers and passengers of a vehicle.

Should I Blow?

Couple drinking in a car However, only the person who possesses or consumes the alcoholic beverage in violation of the law should be charged with this offense.

If a passenger is sitting in the back seat of your car with an open beer, that may serve as Probable Cause to stop the vehicle.

If you are transporting a container of alcohol in some form, such as a bottle of wine, liquor, etc. that has already been opened, you should make sure to place it in an area of the vehicle that is not considered “the passenger area.”

That can be done by placing the opened bottle, or in some cases an empty bottle or beer can, in the trunk area of the vehicle.

A violation of the open container law is a Class 3 misdemeanor for the first conviction and a Class 2 misdemeanor for any subsequent convictions (which is more serious).

Choosing a Criminal Lawyer

This means that your first conviction could result in a hefty fine and up to 20 days in jail. Your second or subsequent conviction could result in another hefty fine and up to 60 days in jail. That’s serious stuff.

The court system takes Open Container charges seriously. You should too!

Raleigh Criminal Lawyers – Fanney Law Firm

If you’ve been charged with an open container violation, don’t roll the dice. Give us a ring.

We provide a FREE CONSULTATION. The experienced attorneys at Fanney law office are more than willing to provide information about the possible defenses to your case, pursue alternative resolutions, and try to minimize any form of punishment.

Call NOW: (919) 617-7009


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