While most drivers in Arizona know that they cannot drink and drive, some might be unaware that they also are prohibited from having open containers of alcohol in their vehicles. If you are stopped by the police and have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle, you can be charged with violating the state’s prohibition against having an open container of alcohol in your car. It is not a defense to a charge of having an open container that you were not drinking alcohol from it at the time.
It also does not matter that you are of a legal age to possess and consume alcohol. An open container conviction may come with serious penalties. If you have been charged with a violation of the state’s open container laws, the attorneys at DM Cantor may be able to defend you against the charge.
What are the Open Container Laws in Arizona?
In Arizona, having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle is prohibited under A.R.S. § 4-251. Under this statute, you cannot have an open container of alcohol inside your vehicle’s passenger compartment. An open container includes any bottle or can of an alcoholic beverage that has had its seal broken or some of the beverage removed, including wine, spirits, beer, mixed drinks, or malt liquor. The law does not prohibit transporting unopened bottles of alcohol that you have purchased at a store or have been given by friends as long as their seals are not broken. However, if you go out to a fine-dining establishment and order a bottle of wine, you can be charged with an open container of alcohol violation if you subsequently transport the remaining wine home in your car after dinner.
If you are charged and convicted of a violation of the open container law, it is a class 2 misdemeanor. Under A.R.S. § 13-707, you may face a sentence to jail of up to four months. Under A.R.S. § 802, you can also face a fine of up to $750 for a class 2 misdemeanor conviction in Arizona. A conviction for violating the state’s open container law means that you would have a criminal record, which could also cause other problems for you at your job or with finding a job that you want.
What if a Passenger in Ride-Share like Uber or Lyft?
Arizona’s open container law does include some exceptions. The rule does not apply to people who are in the living areas of motor homes. It also does not apply to passengers in taxis, limousines, or a transportation network company vehicle. In A.R.S. § 28-9551, a transportation network company is defined as a company that has been licensed by the state of Arizona to connect passengers and vehicles with rides over a digital network. This would include ride-share services like Uber, Lyft, and any others that have been licensed by the state to offer ride-share services, which would mean that you should not be charged with violating the state’s open container law if you transport an opened bottle of alcohol home while you are taking a ride in an Uber or Lyft vehicle.
If you are an Uber or Lyft driver, you also should not face charges for violating the state’s open container law if one of your passengers has an open container in his or her possession while you are using the service. If you a ride-share driver and have been cited for an open container, contact our defense attorneys immediately.
Does an Open Container Charge Stack with a DUI?
In many cases, people who are charged with an open container of alcohol charges are also charged with DUIs if they are suspected to be under the influence of alcohol. Under A.R.S. § 28-1381, you may be charged with a DUI if you are suspected to be under the influence of alcohol and are impaired in the slightest degree. You can also be charged with a DUI if your blood alcohol concentration is measured at 0.08% or higher within two hours of when you were operating or in actual physical control of your vehicle.
If you are stopped with an open container in your car and are suspected of driving under the influence, the police officer may place you under arrest and take you to the police station. He or she may then ask you to submit to a breath test to check the level of alcohol in your blood. The prosecutor may charge you with both a DUI and an open container violation and may try to stack the charges. If you are convicted of both offenses, you can be sentenced for both the DUI and the open container of alcohol conviction.
What if I am a Passenger and not the Driver?
There is no exception in the open container law for passengers. This means that you can be charged with a violation of Arizona’s open container law if you have an open container in a vehicle in which you are riding as a passenger. You do not have to actually be drinking from the container to be charged with the offense.
If you are a driver and one of your passengers has an open container of alcohol, you may also be charged with a violation of the open container law since the bottle or can is located in the passenger compartment of your vehicle. However, if the passenger is sitting behind you and opens a bottle, you may be able to defend against the charge because of a lack of knowledge that he or she opened the container of alcohol out of your sight.
What is the Minimum Amount of Fluids in a Container to be Considered?
Arizona’s open container law does not define a minimum amount of fluids that must be inside of a container to count as a violation of the open container law. The law simply prohibits having an open container of an alcoholic beverage that has had its seal broken, has been opened or has had its contents partially removed. This means that you could be charged with an open container law violation even if there are minimal amounts of alcohol left in the open container.
You could potentially be charged with a violation of this law if you pick up cans or bottles and transport them in the passenger compartment of your car. Under the law, however, the passenger compartment of your vehicle does not include the trunk or inside of a locked glove box, meaning that you should be able to transport opened containers in these areas since they are out of your reach.
What if the bottles are in the trunk?
The law contains an exception for having opened containers of alcohol in areas that are not considered to be in the passenger compartment of your vehicle. Under this exception, the trunk of your vehicle and your locked glove box are both considered to be outside of your passenger compartment. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, the area behind the last row of seats is also excepted from the open container rules.
Possible Defenses to an Open Container Charge
The potential defenses that might be available to you will depend on the particular facts of your case. Your attorney at DM Cantor will review the police reports and other evidence that might be held against you to identify all of the potential defenses to your charges. Your lawyer might review how the stop was conducted and how the evidence was discovered.
If the police officer who stopped your vehicle did not have a reasonable suspicion that you had violated any traffic laws, your lawyer may file a motion to suppress the stop of your vehicle. Under the law, any evidence that is gathered after an unconstitutional stop by the police must be suppressed as the fruit of the poisonous tree. If your attorney is successful with this type of motion, the prosecutor would be unable to use any of the evidence against you and would likely have to dismiss your charges.
Your attorney might also review how the law enforcement officer discovered the open container in your vehicle. If he or she discovered the open container during a warrantless search that he or she conducted without probable cause, your lawyer may file a motion to seek the suppression of anything that the officer found during the unconstitutional search. If your lawyer was successful, this would mean that the prosecutor would be unable to use the discovered containers against you and would likely be forced to dismiss the open container charge against you.
If you are a driver and are charged because a passenger had an open container, you might be able to defend against the charge if you were unaware that your passenger opened the bottle of alcohol. For example, if a passenger in your back seat opens a bottle and surreptitiously takes some drinks from it, you may be able to beat the charge because you did not know that he or she had opened the container.
Your attorney might also be able to identify other defenses that he or she could raise in your case. After analyzing the facts and the law, your lawyer can talk to you about the defenses that might be raised and help you to determine the best way to move forward.
Get Help from a Law Firm Dedicated to Vehicular / DUI Defense
If you are facing a charge of having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle, you might not think that it is very serious. However, a conviction for the offense is a class 2 misdemeanor that carries the potential for up to four months in jail and a fine of $750. If you have a misdemeanor on your record, it can also cause some collateral consequences beyond the criminal penalties that you might face. For example, if you are sentenced to spend time in jail, you could potentially lose your job. Having a criminal record can also make it more difficult to find a job that you want or to get approved for housing.
Because of the potential penalties and collateral consequences of a conviction for violating the state’s open container of alcohol law, it is important for you to seek help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney at DM Cantor may be able to raise defenses to your charges and to win the dismissal of the charges. He or she may also be able to negotiate with the prosecutor who is assigned to your case to secure a plea agreement to a lesser charge or to a deferred prosecution. Your lawyer might also agree to fight the charges against you throughout the court process up through a trial. To learn more about the options that you might have available to you, contact DM Cantor today at 602.307.0808.