This week, our criminal lawyers figure out what actually counts as an open container of alcohol per Maryland law -- especially good to know when you're driving home from the local liquor store with a freshly refilled growler of Dogfishhead IPA...
Alcohol Open Container in Motor Vehicle: A person may not possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle.
Not to be outdone, there's CR 10-125(b)(2), which reads:
Consumption in Passenger Area: An individual may not consume any alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.
Of course, there's a certain advantage -- a flexibility, if you will -- to laws not specifying every little possibility. It makes the law stay relevant longer. For example, notice it says "motor vehicle," which currently applies to cars and could one day apply to personal commuter planes between Baltimore and DC if we ever get that far.
However, laws this general are just begging for exceptions to be created through case law. ("Does this count as open? What about this? What about this? Is this still an open container?")
According to the criminal attorneys here at JC Law, a good rule of thumb is to consider every container of alcohol that does not have a factory seal as "open" when it's in a car. That could include:
Cracked cans of beer, cider, or other alcoholic beverage;
Previously open but currently recorked wine bottles;
Refilled growlers from the local liquor store;
Personal flasks of spirits; and
Paper cups full of mixed cocktail from your favorite pandemic takeout place.
You can see where someone might accidentally run afoul of this particular statute, even if they were pulled over for a simple busted taillight. So, how can you avoid an open container of alcohol charge?
Try keeping to these simple personal rules while out and about to minimize your chances of getting charged with breaking open container laws:
If it's not factory sealed, then put the container of alcohol somewhere out of reach of the front of the car -- in your trunk or in a cooler -- in case you get pulled over. You don't want alcohol within reach; otherwise, it can be harder for your defense attorney to prove a mistaken charge.
Mind your (street) manners any time you're transporting alcohol. Now is not the time to impress a friend with donuts in the parking lot or to challenge the next car over to a drag race out of the stop light. The mere presence of alcohol at the scene of an accident or during a traffic stop can quickly escalate the situation.
Unless the police have a warrant, avoid granting them permission to search the car--even if they ask nicely. You have a constitutional right to no illegal searches, so use it.
Our automatic disclaimer: We're lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We're providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual's attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a "real" response!