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Raleigh Criminal Lawyer Explains Open Container Laws in North Carolina

Howard Kurtz - 6/2/2015
Have you been cited for an infraction under the open container laws of North Carolina? Make sure you talk to a practiced Raleigh criminal lawyer who can help you better understand these laws, the guidelines (and exclusions), and exceptions.

The laws of the state are quite specific, but there may be complicated technicalities that you (and any normal person) may not fully understand. Even if you have not been cited, you should endeavor to know what the law actual says about transporting an open container in the state of North Carolina so you don’t find yourself in trouble in the future.

The Basics

You must understand that the open container law (GS 20-138.7) prohibits the possession any alcoholic beverage whose seal has been broken in any area of the motor vehicle that can be easily accessible from the driver or any passenger, including the glove compartment, but unopened containers are okay. Likewise, the law applies to both moving and parked vehicles and while the statute specifically says “highways” this applies to all public roadways. Open containers must be kept in an area like the trunk or in an inaccessible area in a hatchback or SUV.

Since the law applies to the driver and all passengers, it is illegal for a passenger to drink a beer in the backseat of any vehicle on any public road in the state of North Carolina.  Hear that college students?

The Exceptions

Passengers of cars used as paid transportation (e.g. a bus, a taxi, or a limousine) are exempted, which means newly married couples or ladies having a “girls night out” riding a limousine can indulge in a little champagne on the way to their destination. 

The motor vehicles excluded also include house trailers, motor homes, and other vehicles used as living quarters (as long as it is equipped with at least four essential facilities like a toilet, a water supply system with a faucet and sink, a fridge, a cooking range, etc).

A Few Confusing Technicalities

There are some details of the open container law in North Carolina that make the law a bit confusing. For instance, a citation for an unsealed alcoholic beverage might only be given to a passenger, but not the driver if it is clearly (or not so clearly) in the passenger’s possession. Provided the driver has not consumed any alcohol, he or she will not be charged for driving a vehicle that has an open container in the passenger area. 

However, if the driver has consumed alcohol at the same time (which could potentially also result in a DWI charge), the driver can face more costly or severe penalties under the statute.

An experienced Raleigh criminal attorney with Kurtz & Blum will thoroughly study your case and enlighten you on its implications or possible outcomes. A qualified lawyer can also provide legal representation should you end up in court or minimize the effects in the case of a conviction.

Think You Know North Carolina’s Open Container Law?, North Carolina Criminal Law
G.S. 20-138.7.  Transporting an open container of alcoholic beverage., North Carolina General Assembly
Transportation of Open Container of Alcohol, NC Department of Public Safety

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