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Open Container Laws

As lawyers that often deal with individuals and instances involving alcohol, we have found that many people find these laws unclear.  For example, Indiana does not generally have restrictions on carrying or possessing alcohol in public.  Thus, individuals are permitted to carry alcoholic drinks in public and on sidewalks.  However, possession of alcohol in public could support probable cause for the criminal charge of public intoxication.  For instance, in Indiana, it is illegal to be intoxicated by alcohol in a public place if you are creating a disturbance that endangers your life or someone else’s life; breaches the peace or threatens to breach the peace, annoys, or alarms other people.  Thus, while is not necessarily illegal to possess alcohol in public, it could lead to allegations of criminal behavior depending on the circumstances.  Public intoxication is a B misdemeanor in Indiana and is punishable with a fine up to $1,000 and, up to 180 days in jail. 

However, while not necessarily a “crime”, it is or can be unlawful to possess open containers inside a vehicle.  That is, if an individual who is a passenger of a vehicle and has an open container of alcohol can be charged with a Class C infraction.  An allegation involving an infraction is not a criminal proceeding.  Wirgau v. State, 443 N.E.2d 327 (Ind. Ct. App. 1982).  Consequently, criminal advisements are not applicable to infractions.  Nonetheless, there can be financial penalties. 

The infraction applies to all alcoholic containers that have been opened, that have a broken seal, or from which some of the contents have been removed.  However, the law only applies to motor vehicles that are in operation or while the motor vehicle is located on the right-of-way of a public highway.  Thus, the possession or consumption of alcohol inside a vehicle in parking lot, i.e. tailgating at a football game or other sporting event, would not be included.  Yet, if that same person leaves in a car containing partially consumed containers of alcohol, they potentially subject themselves to the possibility of receiving an infraction for possession of that alcohol in a vehicle.

Of course, if that individual is below the age of twenty-one, then the individual may be charged with the separate crime of possession of alcohol by a minor.  In fact, minors who drive with alcohol, in sealed or unsealed containers, on public road without a parent or guardian could be charged with illegal transportation.  An underage individual who may have no intention of consuming any alcohol is nonetheless is or could be subject to prosecution if he or she transports alcohol with friends or family (not their parents) who are above the age of twenty one and can legally consume alcohol.

It seems that the public policy behind these laws and others is to preclude access to alcohol inside vehicles.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol impaired driving crashes, which accounted for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S.  https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html.   The CDC also reported that more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.  Indiana has been on the cutting edge of alcohol related legislation.  For instance, it was the first state to enact a law setting the blood alcohol level for drunk driving.   https://www.in.gov/isdt/2340.htm.

If you have been arrested or think your constitutional rights were violated, contact the attorneys at Keffer Barnhart LLP today.  We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized history.  Act now and contact us today at 1-800-NOT-GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.