A New Jersey driver cannot possess an open or unsealed alcoholic beverage while in a vehicle. The law applies to both drivers and passengers. There are some exceptions regarding buses, taxis, mobile homes, house trailers, and similar transportation. However, for the everyday drivers of cars, trucks, and commercial transportation, no alcohol is allowed in the vehicle.
Possession does not mean that a driver or passenger has a drink in their hand or resting in a nearby cupholder. Under New Jersey law, an open container of alcohol is presumed to be the driver’s possession if it is anywhere other than the trunk or behind the furthest seat if there is no trunk.
Open or unsealed means any manner of carrying alcohol in which the original seal of the container is broken. Wine in a glass is illegal, as is beer in an insulated travel cup.
Even an empty or partially empty container or bottle anywhere in the vehicle is illegal, except if it is in the trunk or behind the last seat. That means that an empty beer can on the passenger seat can result in a violation, even if you had not been drinking.
Are Open Container and Drunk Driving Charges the Same Offense?
Open container and driving under the influence (DUI) charges are different offenses with different penalties. New Jersey law prohibits any person from consuming alcohol while inside an operating vehicle. A person is presumed to have consumed alcohol if:
- An open container is found in the passenger compartment.
- Contents of the container have been partially consumed.
- The person’s physical appearance or conduct is consistent with having consumed alcohol.
If a passenger or driver meets the criteria for possessing an open container and consuming alcohol in a vehicle, law enforcement can cite them for both offenses. Open container and DUI charges are often companion offenses.
What Are the Penalties?
In New Jersey, a first-time open container offense penalty is a $200 fine. For a second offense, the fine is $250 and community service. While these fines do not seem like much, the more significant penalty is that a person will carry the offense on their record for life. That may harm their ability to find employment or attend higher education institutions. Their insurance rates will most likely go up, and their standing in the community could go down.
What Are DUI Penalties?
A person is most likely to be cited for open container in connection with a DUI charge. If law enforcement discovers an open beer can in your car or thinks they saw you drinking from it while driving, they will almost certainly suspect you of drunk driving. An open container often leads to field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer test. Test results, officer observations, and other evidence could end in an arrest for DUI.
DUI charges are serious offenses with severe penalties. For example, a first-time offender faces heavy fines, potential imprisonment, tarnished driving record, license suspension, higher insurance rates, and more. Subsequent offenses are even harsher. A DUI charge is a public record that can affect a person’s reputation, employment, and other personal pursuits.
There are ways to challenge an open container charge and many ways to avoid a DUI conviction. You will need an experienced lawyer with a good record of successful open container and DUI cases.
South Jersey DUI Lawyers at Agre & St. John Can Help You Combat a DUI Charge
Our experienced South Jersey DUI lawyers at Agre & St. John help those charged with DUI for having an open container. Call us at 856-428-7797 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Burlington County, Camden County, Gloucester County, and Salem County.