How Illinois Open Container Laws May Affect You

Published: Sep 07, 2016, by admin in Criminal Defense, DUI, Legal Blog, Legal News

The State of Illinois takes a tough stance on drinking and driving, and with good reason. In 2014, 281 people in Illinois lost their lives in crashes that occurred because someone was drinking and driving. Around 30% of all fatal crashes involve alcohol, so the authorities view the fight against drunk driving as a priority.

To make the roads safer, the Illinois legislature has gone a step farther than outlawing driving under the influence (DUI). It is also illegal to have an open alcohol container anywhere in the vehicle’s driver or passenger area—regardless of whether the driver or any passengers are actually intoxicated.

While not as serious as a DUI conviction, driving with an open container will seriously affect your finances and driving record. With 3,569 convictions in 2014 alone, illegal transportation of alcohol is a common offense in Illinois. Many of the accused simply plead guilty to the charges without a fight. But by hiring an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney, you may be able to avoid the penalties for driving with an open container.

What Are the Penalties for Driving with an Open Container?

According to section 11-502 of the Illinois Vehicle Code, it is illegal for someone to transport, carry, possess or have an open alcohol container in the passenger area of a vehicle on any highway in Illinois. The alcoholic beverage container is considered to be open whenever the seal is broken. If you have an unsealed water bottle or other container containing any amount of alcohol, you may be charged—even if you haven’t had a sip.

The only exception to the rule against open containers involves limousines, chartered buses, and motor homes, where it is legal for open containers to be present in the separate passenger area of the vehicle. Of course, it is still illegal for the driver to have access to an open container.

Driving with an open container is charged as a petty offense—the least serious category ofx criminal offenses. Nonetheless, the penalties may be harsh. If convicted, you may face up to $1,000 in fines and possible jail time in egregious cases. In addition, you will face a suspended license—unless it’s you second conviction within a single year, in which case your license will get revoked.

How Can an Illinois Criminal Defense Lawyer Help?

To convict you of illegally transporting alcohol, the state prosecutor will need to present evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you had an open container in your vehicle’s passenger area. The evidence will likely be the arresting officer’s observations during the traffic stop and any open containers visible in plain sight or found during a search of your vehicle.

Your lawyer can ask the judge to remove this evidence from the prosecutor’s case when:

  • The police stopped you without probable cause — The police can’t just pull you over on the hunch that they will catch you doing something wrong. The police can only stop your car if they have a warrant or if there is a reason to believe that you are doing something illegal. Any evidence from an illegal traffic stop must be removed from the prosecutor’s case.
  • The arresting officer performed an unreasonable vehicle search — If the police see an open container in plain sight, such as on your seat, the prosecutor can use that evidence. But only under some circumstances are the police allowed to search your vehicle for contraband. If the police didn’t have your consent or probable cause to search your vehicle, the evidence obtained from that search must be excluded from the case.

If you’re facing charges for DUI or illegal transportation of alcohol, our Chicago criminal attorneys can help. At O’Meara Law, we’ve helped hundreds of our clients reach positive resolutions of their criminal cases. Call us today at 312-909-0706 and we’ll give you a free and confidential consultation of your case.