Virginia is one of a few states that does not prohibit passengers from having open containers of alcohol in a vehicle. However, if you are the driver, this does not mean that you will not be charged with DUI if the police pull you over and there is an open container of alcohol in your vehicle. It is important to understand Virginia’s open container law and how it can relate to more serious charges.
Understanding Virginia’s Open Container Law
The open container law has two sections. The first section makes it unlawful to consume alcohol on a public highway—a broad definition that includes most roads. The second provision creates a rebuttable presumption that the driver was the one who consumed the alcohol under these conditions:
- An open container is found in the passenger area of the vehicle.
- Part of the alcohol is not in the container.
- The driver is displaying reasonable characteristics, such as slurred speech, conduct, or odor, which suggests alcohol had been consumed.
The passenger area basically covers the entire interiority of the vehicle because it includes the driver’s seat, unlocked glove compartment, and the areas where passengers sit. It does not include the trunk.
Violation of the Open Container Law in Virginia
Violation of the open container law is a separate offense that you could be charged with in addition to driving under the influence (DUI). Only drivers can violate this law, not passengers. It is a Class 4 misdemeanor, and the penalty is generally a fine. In addition, you will have a permanent criminal record if you are convicted of this. Passengers may be charged with another offense, such as drinking alcoholic beverages in a public place—also a Class 4 misdemeanor.
If you were charged with having an open container in your vehicle, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help raise all of your possible defenses. This could result in the charges being reduced or dismissed. To learn about our experience representing clients facing this and other criminal charges, and how we can help you, call our office today to schedule a free consultation.