open container

Open Container Laws: What You Can and Can’t Do with Alcohol in Your Car in Virginia

Many states have laws that prohibit any open container of alcohol in your car. Virginia does not expressly prohibit passengers from having open containers or even drinking while in the vehicle. However, it is illegal to drink while you are driving. An open container may be used as evidence that you were drinking, and even create a presumption that you did. Understanding what you can and can’t do with alcohol in your car can help protect your rights as the driver.

Our Manassas DUI lawyers will help you face any open container or DUI charges you face. We have decades of experience that we are ready to put to work for you. Schedule your consultation so we can learn more about what you face.

The Open Container Law in Virginia

Virginia’s open container law is different from many other states. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-323.1, a driver may not consume alcohol while driving a motor vehicle. If there was an open container of alcohol in the car, there is a rebuttable presumption that the driver was consuming alcohol if certain other facts also exist. 

This presumption will arise if all of the following are true:

  • An open container of alcohol was located in the car’s passenger area
  • At least some alcohol was removed from the container
  • The driver’s physical characteristics, speech, appearance, odor, or conduct suggest that the driver consumed alcohol

The “passenger area” is a broad definition. It could include anywhere the driver sits, is within reach of the driver, or any area designed for passengers to sit in. It does not typically include the trunk or the area behind the back seats of an SUV or other vehicle.

While the law does not apply to passengers, allowing a passenger to drink alcohol in your vehicle could put you at increased risk under this law, especially if you consumed alcohol at any point before or while driving.

What Is an “Open” Container?

It is not always illegal to travel with alcohol in the vehicle, of course. The container must be “open” for the open container law to apply. An alcohol container is considered “open” if it is missing a factory seal or that seal is broken.

This means that several things may be considered open containers, such as:

  • An open wine bottle that was recorked
  • A beer can with a popped tab
  • A bottle with the lid removed, even if it is later replaced
  • Alcohol contained in Nalgenes, flasks, or water bottles

If you are going to drive with an open container in the car, it is best to have them in the trunk or back area of your vehicle. You want them far out of reach so that law enforcement cannot mistake you for drinking while driving.

Penalties for Virginia’s Open Container Law

The Commonwealth must prove that you drank while driving, not that you simply had an open container in the car. If you are found guilty, it is a Class 4 misdemeanor under state law. 

This means that you could face a $250 fine. You may also be investigated for a potential DUI charge, which could carry much more significant penalties.

Defending Against Open Container Allegations

If you are accused of drinking while driving under the “open container” law, several defenses may help:

  • Proving that you did not drink while driving
  • Overcoming the rebuttable presumption under the statute
  • Filing a suppression motion to exclude evidence
  • Use breath or blood tests to prove had no alcohol in your system

Understand Your Rights Under Virginia’s “Open Container” Law

At Battlefield Law Group PLLC, we have decades of experience protecting defendants in the criminal justice system. We know how to challenge the prosecutor’s case and defend against allegations that you were drinking while driving.  

Contact us today for a free consultation.