In a state known for Mardi Gras and Creole festivals, Louisiana’s alcohol laws are surprisingly harsh and complicated. Penalties for drinking and driving are severe, but many individuals are unaware of the punishment for violations of Louisiana’s open container laws. Large fines, substance abuse training, community service and jail time of up to 6 months are all possible consequences. The criminal defense attorneys at Bates and McMillin understand the confusion and are ready to help you fight a violation.
What is Considered an Open Container?
According to La. R.S. 32:300(B)(3)(a), an open container is a bottle, can or any other container that has alcohol inside. The seal may or may not be broken, such as with a punctured beer can, and some liquid is typically missing. Frozen drinks are handled a bit differently, but you still face punishment if the lid is off, some liquid is missing and/or a straw is in the container.
You are in violation of Louisiana law if you or your passenger possesses an open container in your car or other vehicle. The only exception to the law is if the alcohol is stored in a locked glove compartment, behind an upright seat that is out of reach or is in the trunk.
It is important to remember that you will still be charged for violating open container laws if you have not had a sip of alcohol. All that matters is that a bottle, can or other container is open with alcohol inside. If a law enforcement agent suspects that you have been drinking, he or she may even look in non-alcoholic bottles, containers, and cups to see if there is alcohol inside.
Don’t risk fines, jail time and other penalties because your friend or family member was drinking in your car. Call Bates and McMillin today to schedule a free consultation of your case.
Exceptions to Open Container Laws
Public Alcohol Consumption Laws in New Orleans
New Orleans has a city ordinance that permits alcohol consumption in public, particularly in the French Quarter as long as you are not drinking from an open glass container. Municipal Code Sec. 54-404-409 lays out New Orleans’ public drinking laws. Nevertheless, any open container of alcohol in your vehicle will still be considered a violation of the law. Thus, your options are to finish your alcoholic beverage or lock it up in the glove compartment or trunk.
Drive-thru Daiquiri Laws
Another common open container question pertains to Louisiana’s drive-thru daiquiri shops. Drivers purchasing alcohol there must keep the daiquiri sealed with the lid on and no straw until they arrive at their destination.
Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in a Car in Louisiana?
Generally, no. However, La. R.S. 32:300(F) spells out a few exceptions for passengers under special circumstances.
- Paid fare passengers on a common, contract or public carrier vehicle
- Passengers in a courtesy vehicle which is operated as a courtesy vehicle
- Passengers of a self-contained motor home as long as it is is in excess of 21 feet in length
- Passengers and krewe members riding on a parade float
- Passengers in a privately owned limousine if the driver possesses a Class D commercial driver’s license
Consequences Connected to Open Container Violations
An open container violation is a misdemeanor that will result in a ticket. You won’t be arrested or taken to jail, but you may face penalties like a $100 fine and increased auto insurance premiums.
The larger risk is that you may be suspected of driving while intoxicated if a police officer or state trooper finds an open can or bottle of alcohol in your car. If you are found with an open container, law enforcement agents will typically ask you to take a field sobriety test. As it is common to fail a field sobriety test, an open container violation could easily lead to a DUI.
Additionally, alcohol bottles and cans give police officers and state troopers probable cause to search your vehicle. Any contraband or controlled substances found during the search will result in an arrest.
How to Fight an Open Container Violation
The best defense to open container violations and subsequent arrests would be to prove that the police officer lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop you in the first place. If the alcohol was discovered while at a traffic stop or DUI checkpoint, a criminal defense attorney may argue that the open container was not easily visible and that an unlawful search occurred.
Don’t assume you need to plead guilty to an open container violation. Contact Bates and McMillin today to learn how you can fight the State’s charges against you.