There are seven states in the US that don’t explicitly prohibit passengers from having open containers of alcohol in a moving vehicle. Virginia is one of them. Most states have open container laws, which bar an individual from having any open container of alcohol in their vehicle at any time – not just when the car’s in motion. “Open container” means any vessel containing an alcoholic beverage, except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container.
Despite Virginia not having open container laws at the state court level, a number of cities and counties within the state have recently passed legislation that forbid individuals from having open containers of alcohol in their vehicles. In addition to vehicles, individuals can’t have open containers on public streets, roads and highways either. The law extends to both passengers and drivers of the vehicle. As with any legal issue, the charge gets compounded if you’re charged with driving under the influence on top of an open container citation.
If you have been charged with driving under the influence or an open container law in the state of Virginia, you need to enlist the help of a tough, dedicated criminal defense attorney.
Is It Illegal For Passengers To Drink Alcohol In A Moving Vehicle In Virginia?
Virginia state law only restricts drivers from consuming alcohol while operating a motor vehicle on a public highway. This law does not extend to passengers in the vehicle who are not driving at any time. Passengers are legally permitted to drink alcohol in the vehicle as long as they are in a county or town of the state that does not have its own local law that forbids it.
Remember, all drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher are considered to be driving under the influence. Even if passengers are permitted to drink while you drive, never consume alcohol while operating a motor vehicle. Always be aware of the laws in the county or town you’re in to ensure you’re not at risk to get in legal trouble.
How Does An Open Container Citation Affect My DUI Charge?
In 2018, more than 19,000 people were convicted of DUI in Virginia. It’s unfortunately a very common occurrence in this state. While it’s not illegal under state law for passengers to drink in a moving vehicle, allowing them to do so isn’t wise. Any driver who is stopped by law enforcement and is found to have open containers of alcohol in their car will, naturally, be assumed to be drinking. This makes it easy for Virginia state courts to assume that you are guilty of driving under the influence, making you liable to prove otherwise.
If you are in a part of Virginia state that upholds open container laws, you may be given a citation. Having this citation on top of a DUI charge will only increase your penalties. You may be looking at not just jail time, but possibly a fine or a requirement to participate in rehabilitative programs.
How Should I Transport Alcohol In Virginia To Avoid An Open Container Citation?
There are some instances where it’s understandable that you may want to transport an open bottle of alcohol. For example, many people buy bottles of wine at restaurants and want to bring the rest home. In this scenario, it’s a safe bet to store the bottle as far from the driver as possible. The best option is to store the bottle in the trunk, but behind the last row of seats is smart as well. It’s important to remember that wine bottles for liquor bottles that are partially empty and have been recorked or resealed are still technically considered open containers.
What Should I Do If I Was Charged With An Open Container Citation In Virginia?
If you have been charged with an open container citation in Virginia, you need the help of strong legal representation right away, especially if you have been charged with a DUI as well. In the state of Virginia, a DUI stays on your criminal record permanently. This means, if you apply for a job or get pulled over, you won’t be able to escape this charge.
Always be aware of not just state law, but laws at the town and county level as well. If you find yourself in a situation where you have been charged with a DUI or open container citation in Virginia, remain and calm and remember there’s still hope to get your charges dropped or reduced.
Schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with attorney Scott C. Nolan, PLLC as soon as possible.