“Open container” refers to violations of Georgia's Code § 40 – 6 – 253, which prohibits both the consumption of and the possession of any alcoholic beverage or any open alcoholic beverage container in the passenger area of a car that is either on a roadway or on the shoulder of a public highway.
The Definition of “Alcohol” under the Law
In Georgia, “Alcoholic beverage” has many meanings. It can include:
- Beer, ale, stout, porter, or other fermented beverages, including sake, which contains one half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume
- Wine that is not less than one half of one percent of alcohol by volume
- Distilled spirits, including ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or spirits of wine in any form.
The Definition of “Open Container” under the Law
The words “open container” are defined by Georgia law in the statute. An open container violation occurs when two elements are met. The first element is that there is a container which contains any amount of an alcoholic beverage in the car. This may include a bottle of beer, a can of an alcoholic beverage that has been prepackaged, or a “to go” cup, such as when a person puts a drink into a covered container from home and brings it into the car.
The second element varies, depending on the situation. It may be that the container is open, such as with a can of beer. It may be that the seal is broken, such as when a screw top bottle of wine has been opened. Or, it may be that the contents have been partially removed. Any one of these three situations, coupled with the contents being an alcoholic beverage can result in an open bottle charge.
The Definition of “Passenger Area” under the Law
The “passenger area” of the car is also defined by the statute. A passenger area includes the area designed for the driver to sit as well as the area for any passengers to sit, as well as any areas that are readily accessible to either the driver or passenger while seated in the vehicle. The exceptions to this, however, are the locked glove compartment, the trunk, or, if the car does not come with a trunk, the area behind the rearmost upright seat, which is not normally occupied by the driver or any passengers of the car.
Exceptions to the Rule Against Open Containers
There are a few notable exceptions to the rule against open containers. However, they are limited in scope.
Party Buses and Limos
This law does not apply to passenger areas of vehicles which are designed, maintained, or primarily used for the transportation of persons for the purpose of compensation, such as a party bus or a limousine. It also does not apply to the living quarters of a motor home.
Transporting Home Brew
Under limited circumstances, a home brewer may transport malt beverages made at home. For example, if the producer is transporting the malt beverage for a homebrew special event, they may transport up to 25 gallons, however, the malt beverages must be securely sealed. They must also bear a label including:
- The name of the producer
- The address where the malt beverage was produced
- The name and address of the homebrew special event the malt beverage is being transported to and
- The permit number obtained by the homebrew special event.
Homebrewers may also transport up to 128 ounces of their malt beverages if no permit has been issued for an event. However, the malt beverage must also be securely sealed and clearly labeled with the name of the producer, as well as the address where the malt beverage was produced.
When a malt beverage is transported in a motor vehicle, it must be either in the locked glove compartment, the locked trunk of the care, or, in cases where a vehicle does not have a trunk, the area behind the last upright seat in the car.
Transporting Partially Consumed Bottles of Wine
Restaurants are allowed to permit one unsealed bottle of wine per patron for consumption off premises. However, there are conditions attached to this. First, the customer must have purchased a meal at the restaurant. Second, the person must have consumed some of the wine with the meal. Third, the restaurant must securely reseal the wine in a bag or other container that makes it visibly apparent if the seal has been tampered with. They must also attach a dated receipt for both the meal and the wine to the sealed container. When transporting the wine by car, it must be put in the locked glove box, locked trunk, or, if the car doesn't have a trunk, in the area behind the last upright seat.
Consequences for an Open Container Conviction
The direct consequence for a conviction of open container laws is a fine of up to $200.00. Additionally, it will result in 2 points on your driving record. If you accumulate 15 points or more within any 24 month period, this will result in a year-long suspension of your driver's license. If you are under 21, and you receive an open container conviction while driving, you could lose your license for 120 days. You may also be charged with the separate crime of being a minor in possession. Finally, if you are currently on probation for a prior DUI conviction, and have been ordered not to consume alcohol, an open container conviction could result in a revocation of your probationary status. You could face additional fines or jail time.
Have You Been Charged with Open Container
If you or someone you love has been charged with an open container crime, you need representation. Our open container lawyers focus on defending people charged with crimes associated with driving and alcohol. Call us today at 404.816.4440 for a free consultation.