A violation of Virginia's open container law is punishable as a Class 4 misdemeanor, the least serious type of criminal charge. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to $250, but no jail time. Drivers can be cited for an open container violation as a single offense or with a more serious charge such as a DUI.
About Virginia's Open Container Law
Virginia's open container law makes it illegal to consume alcoholic beverages while driving a motor vehicle. The statute creates a rebuttable assumption that you've violated the law if the following terms apply:
- There is an open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment, missing the original factory seal.
- The container of alcohol is not 100% full.
- You do or say something that suggests you've been drinking such as having the smell of alcohol on your breath, slurring your words, or driving erratically.
As written, this statute makes it easy for officers to obtain a conviction. If you've been stopped on suspicion of a DUI and there is alcohol in your car, there is an excellent chance you'll end up with an open container violation, as well. However, drivers who aren't legally impaired can still find themselves in trouble. For example, consider this scenario: You go out to dinner with a friend, order a bottle of wine, each have one glass, the waiter recorks the bottle, and you put the bottle in your car. Even if your BAC is under the legal limit when you're pulled over, you could still be charged with an open container violation if the officer finds anything unusual about your behavior.
Protecting Your Rights
The safest course of action is to always carry open containers of alcohol in your trunk or in the last upright passenger seat of an SUV or van. However, if you've already been charged with an open container violation and/or a related DUI charge, it's a mistake to simply plead guilty and accept the consequences. Having a criminal conviction on your record can affect job opportunities, security clearances, and credit applications. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial case review with Virginia attorney Charles V. Hardenbergh.