Florida’s Open Container Laws

Most people are aware of alcohol-related offenses that are commonly discussed or reported in the press. Underaged drinking is a commonly understood offense as is driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol. We know a driver can’t have an open bottle of alcohol in their lap as they drive. But can the passenger drink?   


At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law in Tampa, we believe everyone should clearly understand the laws that may affect them before they learn the hard way, by being cited or arrested for breaking a law they didn’t know about. If you have questions about any alcohol-related criminal or civil offenses, contact us for a full case analysis and a breakdown of your case.   




What Is the Law Governing Open Containers of Alcohol in Florida?  


Florida Statute §316.1936 prohibits the possession of open containers of alcoholic beverages in vehicles. Specifically, it is unlawful for anyone to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage or drink alcohol while operating a vehicle or while a passenger is in (or on) a vehicle someone else is operating.   


The law applies to any receptacle holding an alcoholic beverage if its seal has been broken or if some of the contents have been removed.  


The law covers all alcoholic beverages, not just “hard liquor” or spirits. Beer, wine, and any of the new prepackaged canned, mixed, or spiked drinks are all prohibited from being consumed in a motor vehicle.   


The law does not only prohibit open containers of alcohol and the consumption of alcohol in a vehicle while driving on the road, but the car could also be stopped, parked, or even off into a culvert and the Open Container Law still applies.   


You may have an open container of alcohol and drink from it if your car is completely on private property. However, any vehicle located on a sidewalk, alley, or any other location considered to be a road under the law can result in a citation for violating the Open Container Law.   


Penalties for Violating the Open Container Law  


Violating the Open Container Law is not a crime. It is legally a non-moving traffic violation and carries a civil penalty including a fine as low as $60 or as high as $500.  


That may not seem like a lot of money or a strict penalty, but there are other costs that can come along with that penalty. If sustained in court, the open container in a vehicle violation will remain a part of the person’s driving record and can be considered when an insurance company sets your insurance premium.  


Points are generally not assigned to a driver from a citation for an open container of alcohol.   


When combined with a DUI charge, penalties for the DUI conviction can be more stringent due to the open container violation. The presence of an open container of alcohol is also very strong evidence for the prosecution when it is proving the defendant’s guilt on the DUI charge.  


Exceptions to the Open Container Law in Florida  


There are important exceptions to the Open Container Law in Florida.   


  • A passenger in taxis, limousines, or even on a bus or other form of public transportation is not covered by the bar on open containers of alcohol. Any vehicle that was “for hire” or contracted to transport the passenger is exempt.   
  • Locking the open container away in a locked glove compartment or in the trunk of your car will protect you from being cited for violating the Open Container Law.   
  • What about your half-finished bottle of wine from a restaurant? The law does allow restaurants to allow you to take a partially consumed wine bottle home if it has been recorked and is locked in a glove compartment or trunk. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, then you are allowed to transport the wine bottle if it is placed behind the last row of seats in your vehicle.  
  • RVs are allowed to keep open containers of alcohol in the living quarters.  


Defense Strategies  


Experienced criminal defense lawyers are skilled in defending clients against all kinds of charges, including open container violations. Whenever the police stop, search, seize, or criminally charge a person in the United States, the constitutional rights of the person are imperative.   


An open container of alcohol charge can often be successfully defended with one of the following arguments:  


Improper Stop: If the vehicle was stopped without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, any evidence obtained during that stop, including open containers, could be ruled inadmissible in court.  


Lack of Knowledge: In situations involving multiple occupants, a defendant might successfully argue that they were unaware of the presence of an open container in the vehicle.  


Failure to Follow Proper Police Procedures: The officers who issue the citations, record the events as they see them, and then report them to the court are required to follow procedures that are often inflexible. If an officer deviates from a required procedure, regardless of how technical the requirement may be, the defense can often defeat the charge.   


Read More > Can I Get a DUI if My Passenger is Drinking? 


Tampa DUI Defense  


While open container violation penalties alone may not be excessively severe, their real impact often surfaces when they become part of more significant legal issues, such as DUI charges. For skilled legal defense against open container law violations or DUI cases, trust the expertise of Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law. Contact us today at 813-280-1244. 

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