Open Container Law

Can you carry an alcoholic drink in a plastic beer mug while walking down your city's main street? The answer depends on the open container laws in your state and local community. Open containers laws serve a number of goals. Most notably, open container laws seek to:

  • Maintain the quality-of-life for community residents and business by preventing people from being drunk in public, preventing rowdy behavior;
  • Prevent car, bus, and other motor vehicle accidents outlawing the use of alcohol by drivers and passengers; and
  • Maintain federal highway construction fund subsidies for states (under federal law, states that lack open container laws lose federal transportation subsidies).

Not every state or municipality, however, prohibits drinking and carrying alcohol in public places, such as sidewalks and city parks. For example, a few notable tourist destinations, like Las Vegas and New Orleans, do not have open container laws.

Open Container Laws: What Are They?

An open container law restricts where people can drink alcohol in public. Exactly what a public place is depends on your state or city's laws, and how courts have interpreted those laws.

Depending on the particular laws and court rulings, violations of carrying alcohol in public laws may occur when one drinks or possess an open container of alcohol while:

  • On a public sidewalk
  • Inside your own parked car
  • On the front steps or in the common hallway of your apartment building.
  • On school property
  • In a mobile home
  • In a residential neighborhood
  • In a parking lot

Public drinking laws are designed to protect communities by reducing injuries from drunk driving (DUI and DWI) and disorderly conduct. Forty states prohibit the consumption or possession of an open alcohol container while in a motor vehicle.

Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 to give states a financial incentive for restricting drinking in motor vehicles. States that fail to enact open alcohol container laws lose a portion of federal highway construction funds.

Open Container Law Exceptions

A few states lack statewide carrying alcohol in public laws that would otherwise prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages in public. While some states have no such laws they often still have county and municipal ordinances that prohibit public drinking such that public drinking is illegal in all districts. If you are visiting an area that may have an open container exception, ask at the place you are staying or the bar or restaurant where you purchased the drink for current laws and restrictions.

Cities that allow public drinking in almost all areas include:

  • Sonoma, CA
  • Savannah, GA
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Gulfport, MI
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Hood River, OR
  • Erie, PA
  • Fredericksberg, TX
  • Fort Worth, TX
  • Arlington, TX

Cities that allow public drinking in special entertainment districts include:

  • Huntsville, AL
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Montgomery, AL
  • Mobile, AL
  • Louisville, KY
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Lincoln, NE
  • Memphis, TN

Typically cities and entertainment districts that allow public drinking have restrictions that prohibit cans, bottles, or glass containers in public. Often, they require a paper or plastic cup with the name of the establishment where the drink was purchased.

There are other exceptions, like Colorado that allows the drinking of 3.2% beer in almost all areas, but not other types of alcohol. However, the laws frequently change and it is always best to ask someone before making the decision to drink in public.

The main reason that some locales do not have open alcohol containers laws is to promote tourism by encouraging tourists to support local businesses by drinking at bars, restaurants, hotels, and in specific districts, such as New Orleans' French Quarter and the Las Vegas Strip.

But remember, cities that don't have open container laws do enforce other quality-of-life rules, including laws that prohibit:

  • Public urination
  • Public nuisance (loud behavior)
  • Disorderly conduct (unruly or destructive behavior)
  • Arguing with police
  • Minor in possession of alcohol
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI / DWI). If you have become intoxicated while lawfully drinking under an open container law, do not drive.

Contesting Open Container Law Citations - Your Legal Rights

If you or a loved one have experienced or are charged with a public drinking law violation, you may be able to defend and fight the charge in court.

It is very important that you contact a DUI or criminal defense attorney to learn how they may be able to help you or your family. Some of the legal factors that an open container law attorney can review with you include:

  • Whether you or your loved ones, given the particular facts of your case, actually violated city or state law;
  • Whether the arresting police or law enforcement officer followed the law; and
  • Whether your conduct did or did not constitute a criminal violation.

Busted for an Open Container Violation? Talk to a Defense Attorney Today

If you've been arrested for an alcohol-related crime, you'll want legal advice before going to court. Just because an offense seems minor doesn't mean that it can't carry stiff penalties. A qualified criminal defense attorney can help answer the questions you have and prepare a smart strategy for your case.

Next Steps

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