What Happens if You Get Pulled Over with Alcohol in the Car in California?


Alcohol is not illegal and may be lawfully purchased and consumed. However, due to the intoxicating effects of alcohol, strict laws govern how, where, and when it may be purchased, transported, and consumed. In general, alcohol has no place inside a vehicle. There are multiple laws surrounding drinking and driving in California that impose penalties like fines, jail time, or license suspensions. However, simply carrying alcohol in your vehicle is not a crime as long as the container remains sealed.

If you are pulled over with alcohol in your car in California, you should be fine as long as the container is sealed. If the container’s seal is broken, a police officer may suspect that you have been drinking and investigate further. Drivers under the legal drinking age of 21 may never have any alcohol in the vehicle with them unless accompanied by an adult. However, exceptions to these rules permit unsealed alcohol to be carried in a vehicle. You should speak with a criminal defense attorney in LA about your case.

Getting Pulled Over While Driving with an Open Container in California

If you are pulled over in California and found to have alcohol in your vehicle, you may not necessarily be in trouble. Alcohol is not illegal for adults 21 and older. Carrying alcohol in your vehicle is also not illegal. People transport things like beer, wine, and liquor from the store to their homes in their cars every day. However, if a driver is under the legal drinking age or the alcohol is in an open or unsealed container, you may face legal consequences.

According to the California Vehicle Code § 23223, any bottle or receptacles of alcohol that are open or have broken seals may not be in a driver nor passenger’s possession in a vehicle. Open containers could be unsealed cans or bottles or other containers like cups or water bottles filled with alcohol. Even an unsealed bottle with none of the contents removed may raise the ire of law enforcement.

In general, having an unsealed container of alcohol in the car is not a serious criminal charge. In most cases, drivers are issued tickets for minor traffic infractions that usually carry a fine. However, an open container of alcohol may signal to a police officer that the driver has been drinking and could be used as evidence in a DUI case. The officer could suspect you of driving under the influence and investigate the situation further.

Underage Drivers Pulled Over with Alcohol in the Car in California

Underage drivers are subject to even stricter laws surrounding alcohol inside vehicles. Unlike legal, adult drivers, underage drivers may not have any alcohol in the vehicle, open or sealed. It is not legal for an underage person to possess any alcohol. However, under the California Vehicle Code § 23224, there are a few exceptions to these laws.

In general, an underage driver may have sealed containers of alcohol in the vehicle if a legal adult accompanies them. In addition, an underage driver can legally have a sealed container of alcohol in the car if they are transporting it as part of their job. Licensees under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act may employ an underage driver to transport and deliver the alcohol. For example, an underage delivery driver would not be penalized for having a sealed container of alcohol in their car if the alcohol was part of a normal delivery.

Violations for underage drivers are a bit harsher than they are for drivers of legal drinking age. An underage driver stopped in California with alcohol in their car may be charged with a misdemeanor, fined up to $1,000, and put in jail for up to 6 months.

Alcohol and Driving in California

Driving with alcohol in your vehicle in California is not inherently a criminal act. Alcohol is legal to buy and consume if you are at least 21 years old. However, carrying unsealed or open containers of alcohol in your car could lead to trouble. If you were ticketed for having an open container of alcohol or charged with a DUI, you should speak with a qualified DUI attorney in Los Angeles about your case.

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