What You Should Know About the Colorado Open Container Law?

Categories: DUI Defense

A man with an open container about to drive.

Note: This article has been refreshed and revised as of February 28, 2024, to ensure the information remains current and accurate.

If you have an open container violation, it may seem minor, but you should take it seriously. You never get a second chance to keep your criminal or your driving history clean. An adverse finding could turn out to be problematic for you in the future, even if an open container violation does not seem like the most heinous crime in the world to you at the moment.

You need to know your rights. You also need to know the potential adverse consequences of admitting guilt to a violation of the open alcohol container law in Colorado. Talking with a seasoned and aggressive Colorado DUI charges defense lawyer before you pay a fine or go to court to handle the case on your own can prevent you from making a huge mistake.

The Colorado Open Container Law

Section 42-4-1305 of the Colorado Revised Statutes is the state’s open container law. In pertinent part, it states that a person in the passenger area of a motor vehicle that is on a public way cannot drink an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container of alcohol. Seems pretty straightforward.

Knowing how the statute defines certain terms can help you get a fuller understanding of this law. The phrase “passenger area” refers to the driver’s seat and the passenger seating areas. It also includes all areas the driver or passenger could reach while seated. Thus, the passenger area refers to the glove box, the flooring, and the spaces under the seats. The passenger area might also include the vehicle’s trunk if the car has an armrest that folds down and allows the backseat passenger to reach into the trunk.

The statute also refers to the phrase “alcoholic beverage” as defined by Section 1270.3 of 23 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Section 1270.3 defines an alcoholic beverage as:

  • Beer,
  • Ale,
  • Porter,
  • Hard Cider,
  • Hard Lemonade,
  • Hard Seltzers,
  • Wine, and
  • Distilled spirits like vodka, gin, and whiskey.

However, a beverage is not considered alcoholic if it contains less than one-half of 1% alcohol by volume.

Finally, we examine what an open container means under Colorado law. An open alcoholic beverage container is any bottle, can, or other container holding alcohol that is either open, has a broken seal, or has some contents removed.

Exceptions to the Colorado Open Container Law

You may have an open container or drink alcohol in a vehicle in Colorado legally in some circumstances. Any passenger except the front seat passenger in a vehicle for hire, trailer coach, or motorhome can have an open container. Also, you can have an open container stowed in the rear area of a vehicle, like an SUV, provided that the vehicle does not have a trunk.

Is Having an Open Container of Marijuana in a Car a Crime?

Under Colorado Revised Statutes Section 42-4-1305.5, having an open container of marijuana in the passenger area of a motor vehicle on a public way is unlawful. Additionally, consuming marijuana while in a vehicle or possessing evidence that marijuana was consumed in the vehicle violates this section.

The law lists several exceptions to the general rule. The exceptions for possessing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle apply to open containers of marijuana.

What Is the Open Container Law in Colorado Penalty?

Having an open container of alcohol or marijuana is a Class A traffic infraction. The Colorado fines for open container law violations are $50 with a $16 surcharge. Possession of an open container of marijuana in a vehicle is a $50 fine with a $7.80 surcharge.

Failing to pay the fines could result in a judge issuing a bench warrant for your arrest. Even though you cannot go to jail for an open container violation, you can go to jail if you violate a court order.

Other Charges Often Accompany an Open Container Violation

If a police officer observes an open container of alcohol or marijuana in the car, the officer will immediately suspect that the driver is under the influence. Even if the open container is possessed by another person, the officer will investigate the driver closely. The officer may ask the driver to step out of the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests. The officer will also look closely at the driver for indications of alcohol use such as the smell of alcohol, bloodshot and glassy eyes, slurred speech, and poor coordination. An officer could have probable cause to arrest the driver if there is an open container in the car and the driver exhibits any signs of intoxication. The driver could face drunk driving charges as well as a violation of Colorado’s open container law.

A person under 21 years of age and present in a vehicle with an open container could face charges for being a minor in possession of alcohol. This crime is a petty offense and carries a fine of $100 according to Section 18-13-122 of the Colorado Revised Statutes.

Why Is It Important to Fight Open Container Charges?

Sure, the fine is pretty small. However, there are other consequences that could be more severe than paying a fine. Admitting to guilt and paying a fine will go on your driving record. As a result, your insurance premiums could increase. Additionally, any potential employer who needs to look at your driving history will see this charge. Also, you will have to disclose to potential employers or disclose on school applications that you have traffic violations for crimes other than simple parking tickets.

Who Can You Rely on to Help You with Your Open Container Charges?

Colorado criminal charges defense attorney Mark S. Rubinstein has represented numerous clients in his three decades in the practice of law. He has handled hundreds of cases, including traffic violations and DUIs. Mark strongly believes in the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution and Colorado law. As a result, he works tirelessly to protect his clients from the potentially life-altering consequences of a criminal record.

Contact Mark S. Rubinstein and his team with Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C. today for a free consultation.

Mark Rubinstein

Attorney Mark S. Rubinstein has been practicing law for more than 30 years, including 25 years in Colorado. He founded Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C., in Carbondale after working for law firms in Denver and earlier in his career in San Diego. He focuses his practice in the areas of criminal defense and personal injury representation, and he is well known throughout western Colorado as an effective and unwavering advocate for his clients.