When a police officer stops you in South Carolina and discovers an open can of beer or any other alcoholic beverage in your car, you could be subject to severe penalties under the state's Open Container Law.
The law is designed to discourage driving under the influence of alcohol by imposing strict regulations on alcohol consumption within vehicles. The penalties for violating South Carolina's Open Container Law can be significant. You could face fines, possible driver's license suspension, and other legal consequences if found guilty.
If you're facing an open container violation or any charges related to DUI in South Carolina, you should seek legal help immediately. An experienced DUI defense attorney can help you understand your rights and potential defenses — and work to minimize the impact of the charges you're facing.
South Carolina's open container law
South Carolina's Open Container Law (South Carolina Code § 61-4-110) imposes strict regulations regarding open containers of alcohol within motor vehicles. The law explicitly prohibits the presence of "an open container in a motor vehicle of any kind while located upon the public highways or highway rights of way" in South Carolina.
Consequently, individuals can be charged under this law, even if no one is actively consuming alcohol within the vehicle.
What is an example of an open container?
In legal terms, an open container refers to any container (often a can or bottle) that is open (meaning the original seal has been broken) and contains beer, wine, or other alcohol that is "one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume," according to South Carolina's Open Container Law.
Codes and ordinances
In addition to the state's open container law, many cities and municipalities in South Carolina have their own open container codes and ordinances.
For example, in Charleston, SC, it is against the law to "transport or possess on his person or in a motor vehicle any beer, wine, or alcoholic beverage in an open container, nor consume any beer, wine, or alcoholic beverage in or upon the streets, sidewalks, alleys, or public ways of the city," according to Charleston Municipal Code § Chapter 3, Article III, Section 3-31.
Other cities and towns in South Carolina might have their own unique rules regarding open alcohol containers in vehicles. That's why it's important to contact a DUI defense lawyer right away if you have been charged.
Are open alcohol containers ever allowed in vehicles in South Carolina?
Yes, but often only in certain specific circumstances. Possible exceptions to South Carolina's Open Container Law include:
- Transporting an open container "in the truck or luggage compartment" of the vehicle, according to the law.
- The law does not apply to "vehicles parked in legal parking places during functions such as sporting events where law enforcement officers are on duty to perform traffic control duties." This means you can legally tailgate and drink alcohol at a sporting event as long as the vehicle is not moving.
In addition, South Carolina's Open Container Law states that it is legal to transport beer or wine in a closed container in a vehicle at any time.
Are open alcohol containers allowed in a limo in South Carolina?
No. So technically, if you and family or friends are riding in a limousine for a wedding, college graduation, or another event and you are consuming alcohol, you are in violation of South Carolina's Open Container Law.
Are flasks considered open containers in South Carolina?
From a legal standpoint, a flask containing liquor is considered an open container in South Carolina since the original seal on the liquor bottle was broken. If the flask contains beer or wine, it is not considered an open container as long as the flask has a cap on it.
Penalties for violations
If you are charged and convicted of violating the state's open container law, the penalty is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100 and a jail term of up to 30 days. This is why anyone charged with an open container violation in South Carolina should take their charges seriously.
Fighting the charges
Defending against an open container charge can be challenging, but there are several potential strategies that an experienced attorney can explore. These defenses focus on disputing the circumstances of the case or questioning the legality of the charge. Here are some possible defenses to consider:
- Lack of awareness: Contesting that the defendant was unaware the container was open or in the vehicle. This defense might arise if the container was left by a previous passenger or if the driver genuinely didn't know it was open.
- Passenger responsibility: Arguing that a passenger, rather than the driver, brought the open container into the vehicle without the driver's knowledge. This defense emphasizes the driver's lack of involvement in the container's presence.
- Location: Asserting that the vehicle was not being operated on a public highway at the time of the incident. If the offense occurred on private property, it might not fall under the scope of the open container law.
- Unlawful stop: Challenging the officer's reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop. If the officer lacked valid grounds for stopping the vehicle, any evidence obtained during the stop could be inadmissible in court.
- Incorrect identification: Suggesting that the container in question did not actually contain alcohol or that the officer misidentified it as open. This defense could focus on errors in evidence collection or testing procedures.
- Necessity defense: Arguing that the driver had a legitimate reason for having the open container in the vehicle, such as transporting it to a recycling center or disposing of it responsibly.
- Inaccurate testing: Disputing the accuracy of the tests used to determine the alcohol content in the container. This defense might involve challenging the reliability of testing equipment or the methods used.
Given the limited range of defenses, it's crucial to consult with an attorney experienced in DUI cases. A lawyer can assess the specifics of your situation, identify the most applicable defense strategies, and work to protect your rights and best interests. If you're facing an open container charge, reaching out to a knowledgeable attorney can significantly improve your chances of achieving a favorable outcome.
Contact Matt Bodman, P.A.
Don't simply assume that nothing serious will happen if you are charged with an open container violation in South Carolina. You could be fined, face jail time, and have a criminal record, which could negatively impact your life in the future.
As a former prosecutor, attorney Matt Bodman knows the ins and outs of the criminal justice system in South Carolina and can work with you to build a strong legal defense. Put your trust in a law firm that puts your needs first. Contact us and schedule an appointment with a Columbia, South Carolina DUI defense attorney.