Trivino's 2 cents on Open Containers
Are they worth it and how much trouble can I get in if I get caught?
Road Sodas: Are they worth it? What happens if I get caught?
The weather is getting warmer and spring is near. This means you might be spending more time outside, enjoying your friends’ company while sipping on cold beverages. What kind of beverages am I talking about? Delicious sweet-tea, of course. But, for those who prefer a cold beer on a nice warm, spring day - take my advice: Do not enjoy that refreshing alcoholic beverage inside a car. Even if you are just a passenger in the car, you should know that it is against the law in North Carolina to have an opened beer can/bottle inside a car. The law is not limited to beer only… liquor, wine, moonshine, and mixed drinks can lead to a ticket for “Open Container.”
Back when I was in college 15 years ago, the beer that you drink inside the car during a road trip was called a “road soda.” Clearly, the label of “road soda” was an attempt to minimize and disguise the act as innocent and lawful. Today, in 2019, the laws are strict when it comes to drinking alcohol inside cars, especially if you are the driver.
What is an Open Container or Opened Container?
Is it a legal term for an alcoholic beverage that is opened. The law distinguishes between an opened container and a closed container. There is no law against driving with alcohol in your car so long as it is closed and not opened.
What should I do if I got a ticket for possession of Open Container?
First, you should find out the date and time of your first court date. In North Carolina, you can check online at nccourts.gov/court-dates/ to look up your court date. If you fail to show up to your court date, then the Judge can issue a warrant for your arrest and/or suspend your driver’s license.
Second, reach out to a local attorney to find out if they can help you. Many criminal defense attorneys offer free consultations for tickets like “Open Container.”
Third, if you can’t afford an attorney, then make sure you show up to your first court date. At your first court date, ask the Judge if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney. What is a court-appointed attorney? It is a lawyer who will represent you if you are unable to afford to pay for an attorney.
Should I just plead guilty and pay the court costs?
No, do not just plead guilty and pay the court costs. That is my legal opinion, and here are my reasons:
Pleading guilty to possessing an open container will mean that you will have a conviction on your record forever. Yes, forever. Whoever told you that things like this disappear after a few years was wrong. Having an alcoholic-related offense on your record might prevent you from obtaining a professional license in the educational or medical field.
Some counties in North Carolina offer a diversion program for first-time offenders. This means, you might be eligible to earn a dismissal of your ticket. What does a dismissal mean? For a lack of a better description, it means the ticket will be thrown out. This would mean that you would have no conviction on your record. No conviction is ALWAYS better than “just paying the court costs.”
What can happen if I get convicted or plead guilty to possessing an Open Container?
The punishment is more severe if you were the driver rather than the passenger.
If you were the driver, then the court will suspend your driver’s license for 1 year if you plead guilty or if you are found guilty of possessing an open container. You will also face a fine of up to $1,000 plus court costs, and you will be exposed to a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail. If your license was suspended because you were convicted of possessing an opened container, then you might qualify for a Limited Driving Privilege. What’s a Limited Driving Privilege? It is a special license that allows you to drive to specific locations, such as work or school. Contact a local attorney to find out if they can help you obtain a Limited Driving Privilege.
If you were the passenger, then the court will NOT suspend your license if you plead guilty or if you are found guilty of possessing an Opened Container. However, you face a fine of up to $200 plus court costs, and you will be exposed to a maximum sentence of 20 days in jail.
Here’s my 2-cents: Enjoy that alcoholic beverage in the comfort of your home or at a friend’s backyard, home, porch, or garage. Think twice before you hop into the car with that cold, alcoholic drink. A road soda might be enjoyable on a warm spring day, but spending time in court (sometimes hours and sometimes multiple court dates) and spending money on attorney fees, court costs, and fines won’t be so enjoyable.
Contact Trivino Law PLLC today to find out how I can help with your ticket for “Open Container.” At my law firm, I offer free 15-minute legal consultations.
Call or email me today to schedule your consultation.
The contents of this article and blog are the opinion of Jaylene Trivino, Esq.