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Watching TV and discussing https://law.stackexchange.com/a/90054/8683, the matter of whether a container of an alcoholic beverage is open or closed may be of importance. I've heard of minors being arrested for being in possession of an open container of alcohol.

So:

In US law, what is the legal difference between an alcoholic beverage in an open container and one in a closed container?

3 Answers 3

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These laws are state-by-state in the US. The great State of Louisiana has defined these as such. Note 3b, allowing drive-through daiquiri sales, lol.

Possession of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles

A. It shall be unlawful for the operator of a motor vehicle or the passenger in or on a motor vehicle, while the motor vehicle is operated on a public highway or right-of-way, to possess an open alcoholic beverage container, or to consume an alcoholic beverage, in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.

[Alcoholic beverages are described in-depth]

(3)(a) "Open alcoholic beverage container" means any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and to which any of the following is applicable:

(i) It is open or has a broken seal.

(ii) Its contents have been partially removed.

(b) "Open alcoholic beverage container" shall not mean any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains a frozen alcoholic beverage unless the lid is removed, a straw protrudes therefrom, or the contents of the receptacle have been partially removed.

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  • Many states have tightened up the rules over the last few decades. My current state used to have drive-up liquor windows, not anymore. In the 1980's drive-up windows in Florida could serve drinks, but only to passengers in the rear seat. Lots of craziness...
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:59
  • @JonCuster pretty sure LA is an outlier here.
    – Tiger Guy
    Mar 6, 2023 at 16:51
  • Well, a Mississippi law firm (haymanslaw.com/dui/mississippi-open-container-laws) states "Mississippi is the only state which does not expressly prohibit the possession of an open container while driving.", so, no, Louisiana is not alone...
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 6, 2023 at 17:00
  • @JonCuster so Louisiana is one of at least two outliers.
    – phoog
    Mar 6, 2023 at 22:04
  • Under (3)(a)(1) is an empty wine bottle an "open alcoholic beverage container"?
    – gnasher729
    Mar 7, 2023 at 13:40
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Largely the difference is in your ability to transport alcohol. In all but 7 states, open container laws typically do not permitted one to have open containers of alcoholic beverages in a vehicle and having such can be evidence of a DUI or DWI in and of itself. The idea is that the open container can be used by the driver who was pulled over, and in the time, it takes the cops to walk from their car to the suspects, the driver can pass the open container to a friend and claim it was the friend who was drinking, not the driver.

Generally, "open containers" will be considered such if there is no possible means of closing the container (Think your typical "Red Solo Cups") such that liquid cannot escape if the container is turned upside down. A previously un-corked and re-corked bottle of wine would be less suspicious, especially if the driver and passengers cannot regularly access it.

Specifically, the law makes it illegal to have an open container in the passenger compartment. If you intend to transport an opened container, it's advised to place it in the trunk space of the vehicle though there can be some trouble if your trunk has no separation from the passenger compartment (i.e. In a van or SUV where the cargo space is accessible behind the back seat of the vehicle). It also excuses vehicles that are driven commercially for human transport (so Buses, Limos, and Taxis), many of which have a separation of the driver and passenger compartments. Additionally, the vehicle must be being driven at the time of the offense AND on a public right of way (so tailgating does not fall under this, since the vehicle is parked, often in a privately owned parking lot).

When not dealing with vehicles, open carry laws are usually to prevent drinking on publicly owned property, so you cannot drink while you are walking on a sidewalk. Usually this is a local ordinance, and not a state law.

In all cases, "Open containers" legally imply an intent to drink, whereas closed containers legally imply no intent to drink. As such, any minor (legally defined as Under 18 years of age, occasionally under 21 when dealing with alcohol laws) is not allowed to possess an open container with few exceptions (typically letting a minor drink on rare occasions such as holidays OR for religious ceremonies such as Sacramental Wine in various sects of Christianity).

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In the US, federal law does not control the open vs. closed container condition. This is left to the states and in many cases the locality.

In my state, Indiana, IC 7.1-5-7-7 defines what is illegal with respect to minors and alcohol. See: Indiana Minors and Alcohol

Note that there is no mention here about open vs. closed containers.

There is, however, relevant law regarding open containers in the Motor Vehicle portion of the code. Specifically IC 9-30-15-3 governs open containers, alcohol, and motor vehicles. See: Motor Vehicles open container

Note that there also may be local laws governing open containers in other circumstances but state law does not deal with those.

These obviously vary between the states so there is no universal answer across the US.

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