Arizona’s Open Container Laws

Arizona comes down harder on drunk drivers than any other state in the country. Mandatory jail time for first-time offenders is one of the penalties that make Arizona’s DUI laws so harsh. Arizona also cracks down on drunk drivers by keeping an eye out for open containers on the road and otherwise. An open container of alcohol in your vehicle can be a catalyst to a DUI arrest, but it can be a misdemeanor conviction resulting in jail time all on its own. If you’ve been arrested for having an open container in your vehicle, driving under the influence, or another related criminal offense in Arizona, you need expert legal representation to protect your interests. To schedule your free consultation with one of our skilled criminal defense lawyers, click here or call 602-661-0988.

Arizona's Open Container Laws

Different Situations with Open Containers

While Driving

Arizona’s open container laws for the road are set forth by A.R.S. § 4-251. In Arizona, it is unlawful to consume spirituous liquor while operating a motor vehicle or while riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle that is located on any public highway or right-of-way of a public highway. It is unlawful to possess an open container of spirituous liquor on a public highway or right-of-way. There is an exception for passengers in buses, limousines, taxis, and transportation network company vehicles meeting the requirements of A.R.S. § 28-9551. It also doesn’t apply to a passenger in the living quarters of a motor home as defined by A.R.S. § 28-4301. Being convicted of having an open container in a  motor vehicle is a class 2 misdemeanor in Arizona.

On a Boat

Open container laws aren’t as clear-cut for boating as they are for driving. However, § 4-251 doesn’t apply to waterways. Generally, passengers on a boat can have open containers of liquor, but the driver should be sober and not hold an open liquor container.

In a Rideshare

A driver for Lyft, Uber, or any other rideshare can deny a passenger service for any reason, and they may have objections to giving a ride to a passenger with an open container for personal or religious reasons. However, Arizona’s open container laws do allow for rideshare passengers (not drivers) to possess an open container. That means while a driver may deny a passenger a ride for having an open container, the police can’t charge a rideshare passenger for having an open container of spirituous liquor.

Public Spaces

There are many public places where it’s legal to have open containers of alcohol, like bars, restaurants, casinos, and arenas. But these places generally have liquor licenses to offer that privilege. It is illegal to consume alcohol or carry an open container in public spaces like sidewalks, schools, and parking lots. It is also generally unlawful to consume alcohol in public parks, but it’s possible to purchase an alcohol permit for many of Arizona’s parks.

Class 2 Misdemeanor Penalties

A conviction under A.R.S. § 4-251 is a class 2 misdemeanor in Arizona. Per A.R.S. § 13-707, the maximum jail sentence for a class 2 misdemeanor in Arizona is 4 months. If the defendant is at least 18 years old and has been convicted of one or more of the same misdemeanors within 2 years of the first offense (not including jail time served for that offense) will be charged with the next higher-level offense. In other words, in Arizona, if a defendant is convicted of an open container offense more than once in 2 years, the second and subsequent offenses will be penalized like class 1 misdemeanors rather than class 2 misdemeanors. The maximum jail sentence for a class 3 misdemeanor is 6 months. Per A.R.S. § 13-802, the maximum fine for a class 2 misdemeanor is $750. If the defendant is convicted a second time in 2 years, they will be subject to the class 1 misdemeanor maximum fine of $2,500.

Defenses Against Open Container Charges

Although not a felony offense, open container charges must be taken seriously as the defendant could be facing up to 4-6 months in jail. The defendant may be able to leverage a plea deal with the prosecution, which usually means pleading guilty to a lesser charge to avoid trial and incur reduced penalties. However, prosecutors aren’t always inclined to offer such a deal. If so, the defendant will need to prepare a strong defense against the charges they face. To review your case to see which defenses may be relevant, click here or call 602-661-0988 to schedule your free consultation with our firm.

Unconstitutional Search of Your Vehicle

If a police officer pulls you over for a valid reason and sees an open alcohol container in your cupholder or your passenger’s hand, this is all the evidence the officer needs to execute a constitutional open container arrest in Arizona. However, there are certain protocols that the police are supposed to follow when pulling over a driver and proceeding with an arrest. A police officer needs reasonable suspicion to pull over a driver. Unfortunately, from a defense perspective, a wide array of driving mistakes count as reasonable suspicion. The police officer will need probable cause to execute a search of the vehicle for open alcohol containers. You should review the details of your arrest with a criminal defense lawyer to see if your constitutional rights were violated by the police while pulling you over or searching your vehicle- click here or call us at 602-661-0988 for your free consultation today.

Recycling Alcohol Containers

If you’re bringing used alcohol containers in for recycling, it’s best to keep the containers in a bag, box, etc., and keep that in the trunk or bed of your vehicle. If you’ve been arrested for having an open liquor container in your vehicle while driving to recycle, you will need to prove that the containers were empty and the charges against you should be dismissed.

Not Your Container

If someone has placed the open alcohol container in your vehicle beside yourself, this could be difficult to prove in court. It may require fingerprint testing the container to confirm that you didn’t handle the container.

Vehicle with Exception

It’s possible that you were mistakenly charged for having an open container in a motor vehicle while in a vehicle that is permissible under § 4-251. You may need to show the prosecution or the court that the vehicle in which you were arrested was technically a limousine, bus, etc., as per Arizona’s statutory definitions.

Reliable Defense Representation During Trying Times

Everybody has stressful issues in their life, and adding an open container arrest to that list is probably the last thing that you need. You could also be facing other charges stemming from your open container arrest. When you retain a trustworthy criminal defense attorney, some of that weight will be lifted from your shoulders. Not only should they know Arizona’s laws and penalties, but experience working with local prosecutors and judges. This can be invaluable to your defense. Additionally, many public defenders simply don’t have the experience and resources to offer this level of service. An open container conviction can be detrimental to your life, so you should consider retaining private defense against your charges. Arizona Zero Down DUI offers reasonable rates and expertise in a variety of Arizona criminal offenses. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation, call 602-661-0988 or click here.

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