Open Container

Open Container in a Motor Vehicle

Open container laws vary from state to state and sometimes even from city to city. Being charged with an open container violation is nothing to scoff at as fines could accumulate and you may even be sentenced to jail time. According to North Carolina General Statute § 20-138.7

  1. Offense. – No person shall drive a motor vehicle on a highway or the right-of-way of a highway:
    1. While there is an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area in other than the unopened manufacturer’s original container; and
    2. While the driver is consuming alcohol or while alcohol remains in the driver’s body.
(a1) Offense. – No person shall possess an alcoholic beverage other than in the unopened manufacturer’s original container, or consume an alcoholic beverage, in the passenger area of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is on a highway or the right-of-way of a highway. For purposes of this subsection, only the person who possesses or consumes an alcoholic beverage in violation of this subsection shall be charged with this offense.

Further, the statute defines the passenger area of a motor vehicle as the “area designated to seat the driver and passengers and any area within the reach of a seated driver or passenger, including the glove compartment.” This means that you can not be drinking in the car.


Violation of the transporting an open container of alcoholic beverage statute is a Class 3 misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class 2 misdemeanor for any subsequent offenses. This means that for a first offense, you could be looking at a steep fine and up to 20 days in jail. Punishment for a subsequent offense also carries a steep fine, but you could be sentenced up to 60 days in jail. It is recommended you talk to a criminal defense attorney to advocate for your rights.

In addition to the penalties you may receive subsequent to a conviction, a misdemeanor will be on your permanent criminal record, which could have negative effects for years to come. For example, you may have to divulge that you were convicted of a crime on future employment applications.

  1. There are three major exceptions to this crime:
  2. Passenger areas of vehicles for hire, such as taxies or limousines;
  3. The living areas of a motor home or a house car; and
  4. In a house trailer.

This simply limits the types of vehicles that police are concerned with when dealing with open container laws.


An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to argue all of the possible defenses you have available to you in your particular situation. Some of the most used defenses are lack of probable cause, that the defendant was not on the highway, or that the alcohol was indeed sealed.

In criminal trials, the prosecution must establish every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt before you can be convicted. The attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC have experience defending against open container violations and arguing that essential elements of the charged crime are missing or have not been proven, thus warranting a dismissal.


An attorney with many years’ experience, knowledge of the applicable rules, defenses, and local customs, as well as a track record of success will be able to fight effectively on your behalf. The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC have years of experience fighting these charges and are prepared to defend you. Contact our office today and let our attorneys protect your legal rights and help you to avoid jail time.