O.C.G.A. § 40-6-253. Consuming alcoholic beverage or possessing open alcoholic beverage container while in passenger area of motor vehicle
Like many areas of the law, there is some confusion about specifically what amounts to an “open container” violation. Well, I’m here to help. Hopefully, this article will clarify some things.
First, it obviously has to be an alcoholic beverage. But, if you read the subsection (a)(1)(C), you could make the argument that it’d apply to an open can of gasoline seeing as it most often contains 10% ethanol. I’ll let you know when I first hear of someone being charged under this code section for their 1 gallon gas can they use to fill up their lawn mowers.
Secondly, in order for the container to be “open” it merely has to have its seal broken and a portion of the contents removed. As such, if the seal is broken and NONE of the alcohol is gone, you should not be charged with an open container violation.
Also, It also MUST CONTAIN SOME OF THE BEVERAGE. If the bottle is completely empty, you should not be charged with an open container violation.
Of course, these two nuances are what you would call “splitting hairs” and hopefully, your case will not come down to that.
Also, this does not mean you can drink it all to avoid an open container citation as the act of consuming alcohol in the passenger compartment is itself an open container violation.
The law carves out a nice exception for bottles of unfinished wine during dinner at a restaurant so long as it is properly packaged by the restaurant. Also, the law does not apply to anyone in the passenger area of a taxi cab or limo.
Next, the open container actually has to be in the passenger area…which is defined as the area readily accessible to a driver or passenger from their seated position. That does not include a locked glove compartment, the trunk or (in a car without a trunk) the area directly behind the last row of seats.
If more than one person is in the vehicle, only 1 citation may be issued. As such, the officer will undoubtedly try and extract a confession of guilt from one of the occupants with threats of charging everyone…when, in fact, the law only allows for 1 charge per vehicle.
If you’re the only person in the vehicle, the open container is “presumed” to be yours.
The good news? It’s only a $300 fine plus court costs. The bad news? It’s still a misdemeanor offense and with the power MADD has over the law and the courts these days, that means probationary conditions similar to a DUI. It's also a 2 point ticket if you plead guilty or are convicted.
For additional questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 770-729-4809.
- Jason Carnell