Virginia is somewhat unique in that it's one of only seven states that doesn't expressly prohibit passengers from having open containers of alcohol in a moving vehicle. However, a number of cities and counties have passed laws that forbid open containers of alcohol on public streets, roads, and highways for both passengers and drivers. This discrepancy can complicate matters if you're charged with a DUI.
Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in a Moving Vehicle?
Virginia law only prohibits consuming alcohol while driving a motor vehicle on a public highway. Passengers can drink alcohol as long as they're in a part of the state that doesn't have a local ordinance that explicitly forbids it. The Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of the passenger is irrelevant.
How Does This Affect My DUI Charge?
Although it's not technically illegal under state law for passengers to have open containers of alcohol, allowing your passengers to carry alcohol in your vehicle is still not a good idea. If you're stopped by law enforcement, a passenger with an open container creates a rebuttable presumption that you've also been drinking. This means you begin your case with the court assuming that you're guilty of a DUI until you can prove otherwise.
If you must transport open bottles of alcohol, such as a bottle of wine you purchased at a restaurant but didn’t finish, the safest course of action is to store them in the trunk or behind the last row of the passenger seats in an SUV. Wine bottles that have been opened and recorked or liquor bottles that are partially empty and resealed still qualify as open containers.
Protecting Your Legal Rights
DUI charges involving a passenger with an open container of alcohol can present special challenges, especially if your BAC was slightly above or below the .08% requirement for legal intoxication. To protect yourself, hiring a skilled defense attorney is a must.
T. Kevin Wilson has extensive experience handling DUI / DWI cases in Virginia. To schedule a free consultation, please call 703-361-6100 or 540-347-4944.