When a person in Virginia goes to the liquor store to buy alcoholic beverages, they may put these beverages in the passenger area of their car with no intent of consuming them until they get home. Other times, they may have been to a restaurant where they purchased a bottle of wine, but since they didn’t finish it, they decided to take it home. Or, perhaps they brought some alcoholic beverages to a party, but had some of the beverages left over when the party ended, so they put the beverages in their vehicle to take home. In all of these cases, a motorist should make sure these beverages are not open or they could, under certain circumstances, be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
In Virginia, a motorist could face drunk driving charges if, upon a traffic stop, police see that the motorist has an open container of an alcohol beverage anywhere in the passenger area of the person’s motor vehicle, that the container is partially empty and the motorist is exhibiting behaviors that indicate that he or she has consumed alcohol. The passenger area of the vehicle, for the purposes of this offense, includes both the driver’s seat, the front passenger’s seat and anywhere else in the vehicle where the motorist may be able to reach. This even includes an unlocked glove compartment in the vehicle.
A person charged with violating the open container law may feel they don’t have many options. However, it is important to understand that certain aspects of this law are subjective. First, a person may not have consumed alcohol, but if they are nervous when performing a field sobriety test police could wrongfully decide, based on their subjective opinion, that the person has consumed alcohol. Also, it is important that police not overreach the bounds of their power when searching the vehicle. If they look in places other than what is allowed per law, then the contents of their search may not be allowed to be used against the driver.
The open container law may seem too subjective or constitute police overreach. However, it is the law and could lead to DUI charges. If a person is charged with violating the open container law, they will want to make sure they understand the elements of these charges so that they can prepare a solid defense.