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Bad opening

Open container laws

By Jeff Terrill

Fort Wayne Reader


Mike is a big Jimmy Buffett fan. Every year, Mike travels to Indianapolis to see his concert. This time, Mike grabbed a ride with one of his friends. Mike and another buddy sat in the very back seat of the S.U.V. along with a giant cooler loaded with beer.

On the way to the concert, several of the passengers asked Mike to hand them beers from the cooler. Mike’s not a real person but was happy to comply. The driver was not drinking and neither was Mike. Upon arriving at the concert’s outside parking area, a police officer motioned for the driver to stop. The officer looked in and saw several open bottles of beer. The officer ticketed Mike, the driver and all of the other passengers for open container violations. The officer went on to explain that it was against the law to have opened cans of beer inside the S.U.V.

In Indiana, an occupant of an operated motor vehicle who possesses an opened alcoholic beverage commits a Class C infraction that carries a fine of up to $500. A container is “open” if it (1) is open (big surprise), (2) has a broken seal or (3) is missing some of its contents. The open container law expressly exempts a person in possession of an alcoholic beverage (other than a driver) if that person is a passenger of a motor vehicle that is designed or “used primarily for transportation in exchange for compensation.” So, the open container statute does not appear to apply to a limousine passenger who is drinking an alcoholic beverage.

The law also does not apply to a passenger in possession of an open alcoholic beverage within the living quarters of a “house coach” or “house trailer.” I don’t know exactly what a “house coach” is but it appears a passenger within the living area of an R.V. or motor home can legally drink a beer.

It is lawful for an alcoholic beverage to be located in the following locations of a vehicle: the trunk; within a “fixed center console” that is locked; behind the “last upright seat” or in an area of a motor vehicle that is “not normally occupied by a person” as long as the vehicle is “not equipped with a trunk.”

Back to Mike. He had a great time at the concert. He devoured a couple of cheeseburgers and margaritas. He forgot, temporarily, about the open container ticket. Mike was in heaven, or should I say paradise.

Jeff Terrill is a partner/shareholder with the law firm of Arnold Terrill Anzini, P.C. Mr. Terrill represents clients accused of crimes throughout northeast Indiana. You can contact Mr. Terrill with any questions or comments at his office at 260.420.7777 or via email at jterrill@fortwaynedefense.com. Learn more about his firm at www.fortwaynedefense.com. This article expressed opinions and observations of the author, is not intended as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. Please consult a qualified attorney with any legal questions or issues you might have. Thank you.

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