It is unlawful in the state of Georgia and the cities of Roswell and Alpharetta to possess an open container of alcohol in one's vehicle while driving. There are certain provisions and exceptions within this law, while the core principle remains intact: you may not keep a container of alcohol which has been opened in your vehicle. For an open container charge, the law does not require probable cause for a related offense, such as DUI - although the two may be charged in conjunction.
Open Container Charges in Georgia
As a standalone offense, an open container charge does not carry notably grave consequences. If convicted of possessing an open container, two points will be added to your license and you will be subject to a maximum $200 fine. However, the offense is not criminal in nature. If you accumulate 15 or more points in 24 months, your license will be suspended for one year. An open container is legally defined as a beverage which contains one-half percent of alcohol or more by volume, in which the container is open, the seal broken, or the contents have been partially removed.
If you are carrying a passenger who is drinking from an open container and you are stopped by law enforcement, you as the driver can be cited or arrested. As the driver, you are subject to the maximum $200 fine and may have 2 points added to your Georgia driver's license. Your passenger is only subject to the $200 fine. If an open container is left in your vehicle - whether you were aware of its presence or not - you could face charges and penalties if the container is discovered by law enforcement. It is entirely possible that an individual may act as a designated driver, have a bottle of open liquor left in their vehicle by a passenger, and later be charged under the open container law. If you are aware that an open container was left in or may have been left in your vehicle, dispose of it immediately to avoid the risk associated with these charges. An open container may not be kept within the passenger area of any motor vehicle, including the unlocked glove compartment and any area readily accessible by the driver or passengers while seated. If you are unclear about the specifics of the open container law in Georgia, please contact your Roswell DUI Lawyer today.
Driving Under the Influence and Open Container Charges
If you are found driving under the influence in Georgia with an open container in your vehicle, this may allow the prosecutor to bring enhanced charges against you and the penalties for the offense may be more substantial. If stopped by an officer, the presence of an open container may raise suspicion and lead the officer to suspect you have been drinking and driving. The open container also has the potential to make the cabin smell of alcohol, which could also seem suspicious to law enforcement. The presence of an open container could also strengthen the prosecution's case against you, as it could be construed as hard evidence that you had been drinking at the time of the stop.
A person below the legal drinking age who is charged with possessing an open container faces a possible license suspension of 120 days. They would have no access to a limited driving permit. This applies to both drivers and passengers under 21 years of age, if convicted of having an open container in a vehicle.
A notable exception to the Georgia open container law exists. Consumption from an open container is permitted in the passenger area of a motor vehicle designed, maintained, or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation or in the living quarters of a motor vehicle or house trailer. In addition, opened bottles of wine are permitted under certain circumstances; “any restaurant which is licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises may permit a patron to remove one unsealed bottle of wine per patron for consumption off premises, if the patron has purchased a meal and consumed a portion of the bottle of wine which has been purchased on the premises with such meal on the restaurant's premises.
A partially consumed bottle of wine that is to be removed from the premises must be securely resealed by the licensee or its employees before removal from the premises. The partially consumed bottle of wine shall be placed in a bag or other container that is secured in such a manner that it is visibly apparent if the container has been subsequently opened or tampered with, and a dated receipt for the bottle of wine and meal shall be provided by the licensee and attached to the container. If transported in a motor vehicle, the container with the resealed bottle of wine shall be placed in a locked glove compartment, a locked trunk, or the area behind the last upright seat of a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a trunk.”
In a show of leniency, the city of Roswell passed an ordinance permitting the outdoor consumption of alcoholic beverages within designated Carry Districts, "specifically authorized and pedestrian oriented area of the City." Liquor licensed establishments had legal leeway to serve patrons "for "carry out" purposes" provided all other laws, rules, and ordinances are followed. There is a one drink per person on-street limit. Within a Carry District, only beverages served in a paper or plastic cup are permitted for carrying out consumption, with size limited to a maximum of sixteen (16) ounces. No alcoholic beverage purchased under this ordinance can be consumed outside of the Carry District, or on any sidewalk adjacent to a church, school or park or on any private property without the express written consent of the property owners. Consumption is limited to lawful hours of operation. Unless authorized by the Mayor, no alcoholic beverage shall be consumed within the outdoor Carry District on the streets, sidewalks, rights-of-way, and/or parking lots, whether public or private, prior to 10 a.m. or later than 11:00 p.m. Restaurant and bar owners in the area have found the law has been good for business, however many establishments opt not to take advantage of its provisions - citing company policy and liability issues.
If you have been charged with having an open container in your vehicle whether it was yours or someone else's who left it in your vehicle, please contact your Alpharetta DUI Lawyer immediately. Richard Lawson is ready to put his experience to work for you and help you fight your charges.