Understanding the Georgia Open Container Law
The Georgia open container law generally prohibits consumption of alcohol and possession of open alcoholic beverage containers in motor vehicles on public highways. The offense is often associated with a DUI charge. If you face an open container law violation, regardless of whether it occurs with a drunk driving violation, representation by an experienced criminal defense lawyer is strongly recommended.
Georgia Open Container Law Provisions
The open container statutory provisions, found at O.C.G.A. §40-6-253, were adopted pursuant to specific federal requirements enacted by Congress as part of efforts to combat drunk driving. Every state has an open container law, but individual state laws have varying provisions.
In Georgia, the law prohibits consumption of an alcoholic beverage or possession of an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle that is on the roadway or shoulder of a public highway. The provisions exclude passengers “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 home or house trailer.”
Only the person consuming the beverage or possessing the container is charged, except that a driver who is alone in a vehicle is considered to be in possession of any open container in the passenger area. The required elements of the offense are subject to specific definitions of the terms used in the law.
For purposes of the law, an alcoholic beverage includes:
(A) Beer, ale, porter, stout, and other similar fermented beverages, including sake or similar products, of any name or description containing one-half of 1 percent or more of alcohol by volume, brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute therefor;
(B) Wine of not less than one-half of 1 percent of alcohol by volume; or
(C) Distilled spirits which is that substance known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or spirits or wine in any form, including all dilutions and mixtures thereof from whatever source or by whatever process produced.
The law includes an exception for homemade malt beverages produced in private residences, which can be transported in a motor vehicle if specific conditions concerning the container and location in the vehicle are met.
An open alcoholic beverage container means any bottle, can, or receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and either the container is open or the seal is broken, or the contents have been partially removed. The law specifically excludes a partial bottle of wine from a restaurant that meets specific criteria in the statute.
The term passenger area is defined to include the areas where the drivers and passengers sit, as well as any area readily accessible to the driver or passenger when they are in the seating position. The term does not include the trunk, a locked glove compartment or, in a passenger vehicle without a trunk, any area behind the rearmost seat not normally occupied by the driver or passengers.
This offense is considered to be a criminal non-moving traffic infraction, rather than a misdemeanor or felony. Under the law, a violation of the provisions results in a fine not exceeding $200. In addition, a conviction results in an administrative penalty of two driver’s license points.
Defending Against an Open Container Law Violation
A violation of the open container law can occur independently of a DUI case, but most often it is part of a DUI case. In either situation, a criminal defense lawyer can defend against the charge. The specific defense strategy will depend on the actual facts of the case and whether the charge is part of a DUI case.
The prosecutor must prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction, including possession or consumption by the person charged, which can be questionable especially if there were multiple people in the car. The location (in the passenger area) also must be proven, since alcohol in a locked glove compartment or trunk does not satisfy the legal requirements. In addition, police conduct in making the stop or finding the beverage may be challenged on the basis of illegality.
In any case, the consequences of a conviction can be significant. Asserting the strongest defense possible is always the best approach — and that requires having representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Talk with an Experienced Georgia DUI Defense Lawyer
Our criminal and DUI defense lawyers at The McCoy Law Firm, LLC, have decades of experience representing defendants facing all types of traffic charges, including DUI. Please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia for help if you face any type of criminal or traffic charge.