By: Cory Yager, Ex-cop and Partner at Georgia Criminal Defense
The Georgia open container law found in GA Code 40 6 253. This is part of our liquor laws in Georgia due to passing mandatory open beverage laws required by the federal government. The “open container” statute in Georgia forbids a person from possessing any type of open container of any alcoholic beverage while driving.
Open container laws are designed to reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents caused by drivers who are distracted by swigging or reaching for alcoholic beverages, or which can be consumed while behind the wheel of a potential lethal weapon. Boyer v. Brown, 240 Ga.App.100 (1992). So, “driving with open bottle of alcohol” has been criminalized for a little over 30 years in our state.
Initially, the open container law in the Peach State only required a Georgia open container law fine, but in the last decade, DDS Georgia is now required to add two (2) points to the convicted person’s driving records. This new assignment of points can be a painful open container ticket cost in GA if the driver is under age 21 and already has any driver’s license demerit points.
Significantly, no jail time or probation are included in the GA open container penalties. This also means that no jury trial can be demanded on an open container violation, if the sole criminal charge for illegal acts is a Georgia open container while driving accusation. Also, remember that these are vehicular crimes, not pedestrian open container laws such as the ones for the historic district in Savannah GA.
What Is Considered an Open Container?
Other open container states’ legislation is far more problematic for those being charged. Mr. Head was consulted by a family of a young woman and the occupants of a rental vehicle in Illinois that had (after a night of camping out) bags of empty beer cans for recycling purposes and all 4 people faced standard misdemeanor crimes.
In our law office experience, however, an open container GA offense is usually added to the motorist’s other traffic law violations. DUI-DWI (drunk driving) charges are a companion charge in about 90% of our law group’s cases involving open alcohol in vehicle tickets.
After a traffic stop or DUI checkpoint allows the law enforcement officer to meet a driver who has been drinking, and the police officer then has had a chance to assess the driver’s sobriety. Then, officers will look inside the vehicle. Rarely has a law enforcement officer in Georgia cited a driver for open container in car, without writing a driving under the influence (DUI) charge, too.
Most cases handled by our law firm occur while our client being also charged with DUI in Georgia was driving with an open container in the vehicle. Hence, in the Mr. Head’s Georgia DUI law book, The Georgia DUI Trial Practice Manual, Ga. DUI Practice Manual § 3:25 (Thomson-Reuters, 2019 ed.), these two sentences succinctly frame the relationship of the open container GA law to driving:
“The open container law offense is usually not the reason that an officer stops a vehicle. It is difficult for the officer to observe the crime occurring inside most cars or trucks.”
Go to Wikipedia for a comparison of state open container laws: State by state legal provisions on open container laws. Plus, another non-profit driving safety website has an easy to use map:
Most cases handled by our law firm occur while our client being also charged with DUI in Georgia was driving with an open container in the vehicle. The tendency to drink and drive is more prevalent than most people know, and very few are coming from liquor stores when pulled over.
In our partner’s treatise on Georgia DUI laws, The Georgia DUI Trial Practice Manual, Ga. DUI Practice Manual § 3:25 (Thomson-Reuters, 2019 ed.), these two sentences written by William Head succinctly frame the relationship of the open container GA law to driving:
Open Container in Georgia: Penalties and Consequences
Section 40-6-253 – Consumption of alcoholic beverage or possession of open container of alcoholic beverage in passenger area
O.C.G.A. 40-6-253 (2010)
GA Code Section 40-6-253. Consumption of alcoholic beverage or possession of open container of alcoholic beverage in passenger area
(a) As used in this Code section, the term:
(1) “Alcoholic beverage” means:
(A) Beer, ale, porter, stout, and other similar fermented beverages, including sake or similar products, of any name or description containing one-half of 1 percent or more of alcohol by volume, brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part, or from any substitute therefor;
(B) Wine of not less than one-half of 1 percent of alcohol by volume; or
(C) Distilled spirits which is that substance known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or spirits or wine in any form, including all dilutions and mixtures thereof from whatever source or by whatever process produced.
(2) “Open alcoholic beverage container” means any bottle, can, or other receptacle that:
(A) Contains any amount of alcoholic beverage; and
(B)(i) Is open or has a broken seal; or
(ii) The contents of which are partially removed.
A bottle of wine that has been resealed pursuant to Code Section 3-6-4 shall not constitute an open alcoholic beverage container for purposes of this Code section.
(3) “Passenger area” means the area designed to seat the driver and passengers while a motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger while in his or her seating position; provided, however, that such term does not include any locked glove compartment or, in a passenger car not equipped with a trunk, any area behind the rearmost upright seat or not normally occupied by the driver or passengers.
(b)(1) A person shall not:
(A) Consume any alcoholic beverage; or
(B) Possess any open alcoholic beverage container
in the passenger area of any motor vehicle which is on the roadway or shoulder of any public highway.
(2) The provisions of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall not apply to any passenger in the passenger area of a motor vehicle designed, maintained, or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation or in the living quarters of a motor home or house trailer.
(3) Only a person who consumes an alcoholic beverage or possesses an open alcoholic beverage container in violation of this Code section shall be charged with such offense; provided, however, that an operator of a motor vehicle who is alone in the passenger area of such motor vehicle shall be deemed to be in possession of any open alcoholic beverage container in such passenger area.
(c) Any person who violates this Code section is subject to a fine not to exceed $200.00.
Punishment for violation of our open container while driving statute criminalizes the act of operating vehicle while in possession of an open alcohol container. Unlike simple misdemeanors, this statute is governed by a specific provision of that statute limiting that fine to not exceed $200.
Georgia DDS will also tack on two (2) driver license points. So, this offense is not a general misdemeanor statute, nor a violation of the Uniform Rules of the Road. Chastain v. State, 231 Ga.App. 225, 498 (1998)
Our criminal justice lawyers near me in Atlanta in the law group providing this FREE legal information are experienced criminal attorneys. As mentioned earlier, driving under the influence is also charged for 9 of 10 of our open container law GA clients, if not more.
Collectively, our Atlanta criminal defense attorneys near me have been defending clients accused of open alcohol container violations for decades. For William Head that encompasses 43 years. Partners Larry Kohn (21 years) and ex-police officer Cory Yager (12 years) after being a law enforcement officer for almost a decade.
Get your FREE lawyer consultation with our law office partners by dialing 404-567-5515, 24 hours a day. Additional information about Open Container in GA within this website.
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