What if the police catch you with an open container in the car?

On Behalf of | Apr 21, 2021 | DUIs |

From a legal perspective, vehicles and alcohol just don’t mix. Everyone is well aware of the fact that Pennsylvania criminalizes driving while drunk. Most people also know about the rules related to the consumption of alcohol in motor vehicles.

Unless you are in a limousine or on part of a charter tour where there is no possibility of your driving, it is illegal to even have open containers of alcohol in your vehicle. This law applies to passengers and drivers. Driving around with open containers could easily lead to someone becoming drunk while driving, increasing their risk of a crash.

If police officers pull you over while someone in the vehicle has a beer open or a mixed drink in their to-go cup, there could be criminal consequences.

How does Pennsylvania charge people for having an open container of alcohol?

If a police officer catches someone with an open container of alcohol in their vehicle, they will likely seize the container as evidence or even arrest that person on the spot, although an arrest isn’t necessary in many cases. Having an open container in your vehicle is a summary offense that could carry up to $300 in fines and possibly as long as 90 days in jail.

While those penalties on their own aren’t incredibly severe, it’s also worth noting that the presence of an open container of alcohol will likely lead to a field sobriety test and chemical breath testing.

Open containers of alcohol are often probable cause

Police officers cannot force random individuals to perform chemical breath tests, but they can demand a test when they have probable cause to suspect impairment. Just having a beer can or open bottle of wine in your car could be enough to convince an officer that you don’t mind breaking alcohol laws. They could use that as justification to test you and then arrest you if you fail the test or refuse to take it.

Anyone facing a summary offense relating to an open intoxicant might also soon find themselves facing a DUI charge. It is possible to defend against both charges, depending on the circumstances and the evidence gathered by the arresting officer.