Alcohol and automobiles are a bad combination, and the state of Colorado has strict statutes to keep intoxicated people off the road. While most people understand the catastrophic consequences of getting charged with a DUI, fewer people understand the risks of getting caught with an open container while driving.
“Colorado has strict laws designed to reduce incidents of drunk driving,” said Matthew A. Martin, P.C., an attorney in Denver. “That said, even sober drivers can face serious charges if they have an open container of alcohol in their vehicle. This is why it’s so important to fully understand what will get you in trouble and how to respond in a worst-case scenario.”
When most people imagine someone getting charged with an open container violation, they think of someone drinking while behind the wheel. In reality, things aren’t so cut and dry.
To establish that a driver has committed an open container violation, a police officer will need to show that you drove the vehicle on public roads and kept the container in question either in your hand or within reach. The container will also need to have contained a specific amount of an alcoholic beverage, and the officer will need to establish that the seal of the container was either compromised or purposely broken. An open container violation can also be established if the contents of the container have been partially removed and then resealed.
According to Martin, these same standards also apply to passengers in a vehicle.
“Anyone in the passenger area of a vehicle is prohibited from knowingly possessing an open container of alcohol,” he said. “An open alcoholic beverage cannot be in any seating areas, as well as any area readily accessible from such areas. This includes the glove compartment but not the trunk or the storage area behind the last seat in vehicles without trunks.”
Alcoholic beverages can include wine, beer and distilled spirits such as brandy, rum or whiskey. Colorado’s open container law applies to every type of motor vehicle designed primarily for travel on public roads. This is true even if the vehicle isn’t in motion. So, drinking in a car parked on a public street will still violate the statute.
For the most part, the prohibitions and definitions associated with alcohol container laws also apply to open containers or marijuana. That said, to qualify as an open container of marijuana, the seal of the bottle or package must be broken, contents must have been partially removed, and there must be clear evidence that marijuana was consumed in the vehicle.
Certain passenger vehicles are exempted from Colorado’s open container laws. This includes taxis, limousines and motorhomes. Passengers in these vehicles, aside from the driver and front-seat passenger, are allowed to possess and consume alcohol or marijuana.
Violations of Colorado’s open container laws are considered a class A traffic infraction. Offenses result in a $50 fine, along with a surcharge $16 for each open alcohol container. For underage offenders, a first offense is punishable by up to a $100 fine and an additional $25 surcharge. The court can also order the underage offender to complete a substance abuse education program.
That said, for many drivers, an open container violation is only the beginning. According to Martin, open containers will invariably lead to a DUI investigation.
“If an officer finds an open container in your vehicle, they will immediately suspect a potential DUI,” he said. “This usually starts with a field sobriety test or breathalyzer. The officer will administer the test even if the open container is sitting in the passenger area. If you have a positive breathalyzer test or don’t pass the field sobriety test, you will face much harsher charges. In either case, it’s important to consult an experienced attorney.”
If you have a skilled attorney who specializes in your type of case, you may be able to secure an acquittal or dismissal. This is because they know which defenses carry weight, and which do not. They can also leverage their experience and knowledge to present your case more persuasively than you or a family attorney.
“When it comes to protecting your rights and freedom, legal representation is the most important decision you can make,” said Martin. “Whether you are charged with an open container violation or DUI, you should have an attorney that specializes in cases like yours.”
About Matthew A. Martin, P.C.
Leveraging years of experience and expertise, our law firm works tirelessly to aggressively defend clients who have been accused of DUIs, misdemeanors or felonies. If you, a friend or loved one has been charged with a DUI, open container violation or crime, please contact us immediately to discuss your case.