Unlike many states, Virginia does not technically prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles. However, that does not mean a person is free from consequences if police find an open container while someone is driving. While this may seem contradictory, the law in Virginia is relatively straightforward. While the consequences for an open container are relatively low, the consequences can drastically increase depending on other circumstances.
What Is Defined As An Open Container?
In Virginia, an open container is legally defined as “any vessel containing an alcoholic beverage, except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container.” Drivers are prohibited from consuming alcohol while driving and are not allowed to have any open containers in the vehicle while driving. If caught, driving with an open container or drinking while driving can qualify as a Class 4 misdemeanor at a minimum.
Passengers, however, are provided slightly more leeway. While open containers are still prohibited in the passenger area, this designation refers to any area in the car within the driver’s reach. Open containers that are in the passenger area will still be chargeable offenses. This refers to the open container charges or on charges of driving under the influence (DUI), which can be added if the driver is found to be under the influence or intoxicated.
I Need To Transport Alcohol; Where Do I Store It?
As long as any open container is stored beyond the reach of the driver, then the driver cannot be charged under the open container law. The best location to store any open containers of alcohol is in the trunk or behind the farthest seat from the driver.
As mentioned, any open container in the passenger area is prohibited. This includes the glove compartment and anywhere where a passenger can sit that is within reach of the driver, as well as, of course, the driver’s seat.
If you are in doubt about storing an open container of alcohol, the best location is the furthest location from yourself, whether that is in the trunk, or if your vehicle does not have a drunk, behind the furthest seat from the driver’s seat.
What Is A Rebuttable Presumption?
Virginia law allows for a “rebuttable presumption.” This means that a driver will be presumed to be violating the open container law if they are found in these specific situations:
- An open container is present in the passenger area of a motor vehicle
- An alcoholic beverage in an open container looks partially consumed (or not completely filled)
- The person controlling the vehicle presents signs, whether in appearance, speech, conduct or other characteristics, of consuming alcohol with an open container present.
What Are The Penalties Of Getting Caught With An Open Container In Virginia?
If caught, a driver found consuming alcohol with an open container in a vehicle can be charged with a Class 4 misdemeanor. The maximum fine for a Class 4 misdemeanor does not exceed $250. However, more severe punishments can easily arise, such as a DUI, which can be added if the officer believes that the driver is intoxicated while operating their motor vehicle.
Depending on the severity of the DUI and whether it is a repeat offense, a DUI can carry up to 10 years in prison in addition to high fines. First time offenses might simply include high fines, loss of license and mandatory educational classes for mishandling of substances.
A DUI conviction can carry harsh consequences beyond the initial charge, as a conviction can cost a person job opportunities and even their current job. A lost license can limit a person’s earning potential because of difficulty commuting or because of hesitancy on the employer’s part due to an impacted background check.
Contact A Professional DUI Attorney
Because of the rule of rebuttable presumption, DUI cases are challenging for those charged, particularly if they are also caught with an open container. While blood alcohol (BAC) levels are often used to determine a person’s capability of operating a motor vehicle, there is no set limit for BAC level to be charged with a DUI. The consequences of a DUI on your record can be severe, and without an experienced attorney by your side, fighting those charges can feel impossible.
An experienced DUI attorney has years of representing DUI cases and understands what is at stake. The Law Offices of Kermit A. Monge would be happy to help you understand your options and work with you to reduce the penalties resulting from an open container in your vehicle. Reach out today by calling 703.273.5500 or by requesting a consultation online.