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Florida Open Container Lawyer

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What Does Florida Say About Open Containers In Vehicles?

If you're a Florida resident or planning to drive through the Sunshine State, it's crucial to understand the state's laws about open containers in vehicles. The laws can vary significantly from one state to another, and Florida has specific rules outlined in its statutes. Under Florida Statute 316.1936, the possession of containers or bottles that are open of alcoholic drinks in vehicles is strictly regulated. Understanding these laws could be the difference between a non-eventful drive and facing legal consequences.

What Are Open Containers According To Florida Law?

The statute defines an "open container" as any holder of an alcoholic drink where it is instantly possible of being drunk from or where the seal is broken. This means that if the seal of the alcohol bottle is broken, it is considered a container that is open, despite whether you have drunk any alcohol out of it.

Where Can't You Have Open Containers?

The law makes it illegal to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage or consume it while operating a vehicle on a "road," as defined by the statute. The term "road" includes not just streets and highways but also alleys, associated sidewalks, and more. It's not just the driver who is at risk; passengers are also prohibited from possessing open containers or consuming alcohol in a moving vehicle. Moreover, even if your car is parked or stopped on a road, having any open containers is still against the law.

Who Is Exempt From This Law?

There are some exceptions to this rule. Passengers in vehicles designed mainly for the transportation of persons for compensation (like taxis, buses, or limousines) and passengers in motor homes that are more than 21 feet in length are exempt from this prohibition.

Possession: Operator Vs. Passenger

Florida law makes a distinction between the operator (driver) and passengers when it comes to possession of any open containers. A container that is open is determined to be in the possession of the driver if not possessed by the passenger, and it is not placed in a glove compartment that is locked, trunk, or some other locked non-passenger area. On the other hand, a container is considered to be in the possession of a passenger if it is within their physical control.

Penalties For Violating Florida's Open Container Law

Violating this law is not a criminal offense, but a traffic violation. Operators who violate this statute commit a non-criminal moving traffic violation, while passengers who break the law commit a non-moving traffic violation. Both are punishable as outlined in Florida Statutes.

Local Regulations May Vary

Counties or municipalities can enact their own laws that impose stricter restrictions than the state laws. It's essential to be aware of local ordinances in addition to state laws.

Defenses Against Open Container Charges In Florida

When Is An Open Container "Not Open"?

One of the first areas of defense revolves around the definition of an "open container." The statute defines this as any container "immediately possible of being drunk from" or whose seal is broken. Arguably, if you can prove that the container was not easily consumable or that the seal was not broken, you might have grounds for defense. For example, if the alcohol was in a thermos or another non-standard container that requires additional steps to consume, it may not meet the statutory definition of an "open container."

Exemptions To The Rule: Were You A Passenger In A Special Vehicle?

Florida law outlines specific situations where the open container law does not apply. If you were a passenger in a vehicle primarily used for transporting people for compensation—such as a taxi, limo, or bus—you're exempt from this law. Additionally, if you were in a self-contained motor home that exceeds 21 feet in length, you are also not subject to this law. Being aware of these exemptions can be crucial for your defense.

Location Of The Container: Was It Accessible?

The statute distinguishes between the operator and the passengers in terms of possession. For an open container to be determined to be possessed by the driver, it has to be somewhere other than a glove compartment that is locked, trunk, or other locked non-passenger areas. If the container was in such a locked area, this could serve as a defense for the driver.

Were You Actually On A "Road"?

The statute's definition of a "road" is quite broad but is worth scrutinizing for a defense. If you can prove that you were not on a road as defined by Florida law at the time of the charge, then you may have a viable defense. However, proving this can be challenging given the expansive nature of the statute's definition.

Were You Subject To More Stringent Local Laws?

Although the state law provides a baseline, local governments can impose more stringent laws. If you were charged based on a local ordinance that may not align with the state statute, there could be an opportunity for defense, especially if that local law conflicts with state law in some way.

FAQ: Understanding Florida's Open Container Law

What Constitutes An "Open Container"?

An "open container" is defined as any container of alcoholic beverage which can be immediately drunk from or whose seal is broken. This means if you've opened the seal but haven't consumed the beverage, it is still considered an "open container" under this law.

Is It Illegal To Have An Open Container While Parked?

Yes, it's illegal. The statute explicitly states that possession of an open container is unlawful even when seated in or on a parked or stopped vehicle within a road as defined by the law.

Can Passengers Drink Alcohol In The Car?

No, passengers are also prohibited from possessing an open container or consuming alcoholic beverages in a moving vehicle. The only exceptions are passengers in vehicles like taxis, buses, and limos, as well as those in self-contained motor homes exceeding 21 feet in length.

What About Open Containers In A Glove Box Or Trunk?

The law allows for an open container to be stored in a trunk, locked glove compartment, or other locked or secure non-passenger areas of the vehicle. If the open container is in such a location, the driver is not considered to be in possession of it.

What Are The Penalties For Violating This Law?

Violation of this law results in a non-criminal traffic violation. For drivers, it's a non-criminal moving traffic violation, while for passengers, it's a non-moving traffic violation. Penalties are outlined in Florida Statutes and typically involve fines.

Are There Exceptions For Alcoholic Beverages That Have Been "Re-Sealed"?

Yes, an alcoholic beverage that has been sealed by a licensee or an employee of a licensee and is transported according to the Florida Statutes is not considered an "open container" under this law.

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