Keep It Sealed and Stowed: More about Georgia’s Open Container Law

At this time of the year, most of the stories concerning politics at the state level invariably seem to focus on legislation that has made its way to the governor’s desk, and is awaiting either a signature or a veto.

However, these normally staid headlines took a turn for the salacious earlier this month after a state representative was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, speeding and possession of an open container.

According to reports, the 54-year-old representative, who is facing a primary challenge in House District 79 next month, was pulled over for going 72 miles-per-hour in a 45 mile-per-hour zone on the afternoon of April 7. During the subsequent search of his car, the arresting officer discovered an empty water bottle that had the distinct smell of an alcoholic beverage.

After reading this story, one of the many questions that people likely have is how exactly Georgia’s open container law works.

State law declares that it is illegal for anyone to either possess any “open alcoholic beverage container” or consume any alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of any motor vehicle situated on the roadway or shoulder of any public highway.

Punishment for this crime is a fine of up to $200.

Here, an open alcoholic beverage container includes cans, bottles or other receptacles containing any amount of alcohol that are 1) open, 2) found to have broken seal or 3) missing any portion of their contents.

As for the meaning of passenger area, it essentially includes those areas meant to seat the passengers and driver while the vehicle is in motion, and any other area readily accessible to these parties while seated.  

Some additional points to note concerning the open container law include:

  • While open container violations will only be assessed to those possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage, a driver who is alone in a vehicle with an open container will be presumed to be in possession of the alcoholic beverage.
  • The open container law doesn’t apply to individuals located in the living areas of house trailers or motor homes, or traveling in vehicles designed and used primarily to transport people for compensation.  

It’s important to remember that even though a $200 fine for an open container violation may not seem like a big deal, it will still go on your permanent record. Furthermore, it is frequently charged in conjunction with a DUI, which has considerably more serious repercussions. Accordingly, anyone facing these types of criminal charges should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional. 

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