You are driving in Dade County and happen to have an open can of beer, or a mixed drink, in your cup holder. A police officer pulls you over. What are the ramifications?
Florida has an “open container” law, which may result in you receiving a ticket. According to the law, which is codified in Section 316.1936 of the Florida Statutes, an “open container” is defined as any container of an alcoholic beverage that is capable of being consumed from, or has a broken seal.
No driver or passenger inside a vehicle may possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage or consume an alcoholic beverage inside a vehicle. And even if your vehicle is parked or stopped, it is still against the law for you, or a passenger, to be in possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage. You could also be charged with violating the open container law if you are simply walking outside.
Exceptions to the Open Container Law
If your open container is locked inside the glove compartment or trunk, you should be okay. This is because it is legal to purchase alcohol and transport it to your home, vacation rental, friend’s house, etc. However, if the drink is in your cup holder and exposed, you are likely in violation of this law.
Other exceptions to the open container law include passengers in a bus where the driver holds a valid commercial driver’s license. In this scenario, a bus passenger may possess the open drink. Another exception is if you are in a “self-contained motor home” that is longer than 21 feet. Since this is considered a home, rather than a vehicle, you can have an open alcoholic beverage inside the motor home.
Open Container Violation – Possible Punishments
An open container violation is generally considered a “moving violation” if you are charged as the driver of the vehicle. A conviction could result in points on your driving record and a steep increase in your auto insurance premiums.
If you are only charged with an open container violation, you will likely only have to pay a fine. However, a common situation that arises is a police officer sees the open container of alcohol and suspects that you are driving under the influence. This is because an open container of alcohol in your cup holder may provide the officer with probable cause that you may be intoxicated. This would enable the officer to perform a field sobriety test or ask you to take a Breathalyzer test.
If you are charged with a DUI, the potential punishments are much more serious. A DUI conviction could result in jail time, the loss of your driver’s license, a large fine, etc.
Potential Defenses to Florida’s Open Container Law
You have the right to contest an open container charge. In many instances, the police officer who issued the open container citation relied solely on their perception of the scene in order to make a determination of guilt. Because this determination is fairly subjective, your West Palm Beach defense attorney may be able to contest this perception in court.
Another important defense is to determine whether the police officer actually had probable cause to pull you over and search your vehicle in the first place. If you were operating your vehicle properly and were within the speed limit, the officer may not have had the basis to pull you over.
Speak to a Lawyer Today
If you are charged with an open container violation, you have the right to fight the charge. Contact the Skier Law Firm, P.A. in West Palm Beach to determine the best legal defense available. We have years of experience defending clients and protecting the rights of those wrongfully accused.