Open Container Laws to Know: Penalties for Public Drinking
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, perfect for a beer in the park. So you and your friends spend the day drinking in the shade and everything is great until you get charged with open container. Are you in big trouble?
Probably not, unless you exacerbate the problem. Open container laws vary widely from state to state and place to place and the penalties for this offense also vary widely. The consequences of drinking in public can also depend on where in public you were drinking and the extent to which you were a nuisance. Let's consider open container laws and why they were created to get a sense of consequences.
Unlocking Open Container Laws
Open container laws are designed to keep people in line when they are in public and they prohibit alcohol consumption on the streets. Some places adopted these laws under pressure from federal authorities, who threatened to withdraw national highway funding otherwise. Sometimes states have relatively lax open container laws but allow localities to make more strict regulations as desired.
You can't guess what the law will be in every place you go, so your best bet is to avoid drinking in public. With the exception of locations famous for celebration -- like Las Vegas and New Orleans -- in most places you are prohibited from drinking alcohol in public except in very specific circumstances.
If you don't make a big fuss though, getting busted for open container should not be a huge headache. Take care of the ticket and it should go away, or challenge it in court if you believe there was no basis for its issuance. But if you argue with the police at the scene, generally speaking, you risk picking up more charges and an arrest.
Small Time Crime
As crimes go, open container is mild. In fact, it isn't even a crime necessarily. For example, in Florida, it is a traffic violation and not a criminal offense, although context matters. Where was the container, who had it, were you a driver or passenger, for example? You might get a ticket and be asked to pay a fine but, theoretically, an open container violation is not the kind of accusation that should seriously impact your life.
Of course, if you don't address the violation, ignore the fine, skip out on a court date, and hope it all goes away, you will get in a lot of trouble. But that will not be for open container. Rather, it will be for failure to obey a court order. By no means should you act like your open container offense didn't happen, that you weren't charged with this infraction or violation, as that is a sure way to exponentially increase the negative consequences of an encounter with police.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you have been charged with an open container violation or any other offense, speak to a lawyer. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee, and they often handle infractions and traffic violations, so consult with counsel. They will be happy to help you resolve your situation.
- Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- Public Intoxication (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Can I Drive With an Open Container in my Trunk? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- If You Brown-Bag Booze, Can You Drink in Public? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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