Unfortunately, you can be charged with DUI or a violation of Virginia’s open container law if you are stopped by the police, and they find an open container of alcohol in your vehicle. You could face these consequences even if you have a passenger in your vehicle and it is their container.
What Is Virginia’s Open Container Law?
In Virginia, it is illegal for a driver to consume alcohol and drive. However, passengers are not prohibited from having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and would not be charged with a crime for doing this. The same is not true for the driver—even if they consumed no alcohol and the container was not theirs.
Under Virginia Code §18.2-323.1, there is a rebuttable presumption that the motorist consumed alcohol if an open container is found in their vehicle. An open container is defined under the law as any vessel containing alcohol unless it has the original factory seal from the manufacturer. These conditions must be met for the open container law to apply:
- An open container is found in the passenger area.
- Some of the alcohol in the container has been removed.
- The conduct, appearance, odor of alcohol, speech, or other physical characteristics of the driver reasonably suggests that they were associated with alcohol.
The passenger area of a vehicle is broadly defined under the statute and includes:
- The area where the driver sits.
- Any area within reach of the motorist, including the closed glove compartment.
- The area in the vehicle designed to seat passengers.
It does not include the trunk or the area behind the last upright seat for passengers in a passenger van, station wagon, hatchback, or SUV.
What Are the Penalties for Violation of the Open Container Law?
It is a Class 4 misdemeanor offense to violate Virginia’s open container law. If you are convicted, the penalty would be a $250 fine. In addition, you could face a separate DUI charge.
Even if you are not arrested for DUI, you should not treat this offense like a simple traffic infraction and just pay the fine. You would be pleading guilty to a crime and would have a permanent criminal record that could affect your ability to obtain a job, housing, and education.
Were you arrested for DUI or violating the open container law? Our experienced DUI attorneys understand the serious ramifications a conviction can have on your life and are here to mount an aggressive defense strategy so that you achieve the best possible outcome. To find out how we can help you, call our Manassas office or start a live chat to schedule your free consultation today.