Each state has different open container laws, and if you don’t know the particular laws in the state you are in, you may not even know if you’re breaking the law. This article will explain some commonly asked questions regarding open alcohol containers in the state of Colorado:
- Can a passenger drink alcohol in a car?
- Can I have an open container of alcohol in my car?
- Can I drink or have an open container of alcohol in public?
- What are the legal consequences of violating open container laws?
Once you know what the law expects of you, you can act accordingly. In the event you are accused of violating an open container law, you may need to contact a criminal defense lawyer to guide you through the legal procedures.
How Does Colorado Define Alcohol and ABV?
Any fermented beverage such as beer, wine, malt liquor, cider, distilled alcohol, sake or other liquid containing 0.05% alcohol by volume is legally considered to be alcohol in the state of Colorado. The following list will give you a better idea of alcohol content in a beverage (also referred to as Alcohol by Volume or ABV):
- Typical Beers 4-5% ABV
- Craft Beers 6-8% ABV
- Specialty Beers can have as much as 12-14% ABV
- Wine averages 5-18% ABV
- Liquor averages 40% ABV
The higher the alcohol content of a beverage, the faster the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is affected. BAC is often tested using a breathalyzer test, in which someone suspected of being intoxicated breathes or blows into a device that can measure how much alcohol is in their bloodstream. An individual can be charged with DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) if their BAC registers 0.05. If a driver’s BAC is reported to be 0.08 then DUI charges are applicable.
What Constitutes an Open Container?
In Colorado, an open container of alcohol is defined as any bottle, can, jug, or other types of vessel that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and is open. Legally, once the seal of the container of alcohol is broken, it is considered to be “open.” Furthermore, any receptacle containing alcohol that is missing any portion of alcohol (whether it was recently consumed or not) is also deemed as an open container by law.
Can a Passenger Drink Alcohol in a Car?
While few states in America allow alcohol to be consumed in a moving vehicle, according to Colorado state law CRS 42-4-1305 it is illegal for any driver or passenger in a motor vehicle in motion to drink alcohol. Under certain circumstances; passengers but never drivers can consume alcohol while in a moving motor vehicle. Legally, passengers or residents of motor homes are permitted to drink alcoholic beverages as long as they are not interfering with the driver.
The law further makes exceptions for passengers in limousines or other vehicles that are for hire, such as tour buses or town cars. Not all vehicles for hire, such as many taxis or shuttle services, allow drinking of alcohol while onboard. Be sure to inquire if the consumption of alcohol is allowed or prohibited prior to drinking or carrying an open container in a chartered vehicle.
Can I Have an Open Container of Alcohol in My Vehicle?
The law, CRS 42-4-1305 further states, that it is against the law to even possess a container of alcohol that is open in the passenger area of a vehicle that is in motion. In the event you need to transport alcohol that is already open from one location to another location such as a restaurant or friend’s residence back to your own home, it must be stored in a trunk or cargo area of the vehicle that is inaccessible to any person while in the car. The law makes exceptions for vehicles such as vans, hatchback cars, and jeeps in which alcohol can be legally stored in the cargo area even though it technically accessible to passengers.
Despite what you might think, open alcohol containers cannot be legally stored and transported in the glove compartment of the vehicle. Even if the glove box is locked, it is considered to be in reach of the driver thus in violation of open container law.
An open alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of the car, whether it is being consumed or not can result in a violation associated with fines. If the driver has an open container of alcohol and is under the influence of alcohol while driving, the driver is more likely to be charged with a DUI.
Can I Drink or Have An Open Container in Public?
In the state of Colorado, drinking alcohol with restrictions is permitted in public areas such as state or city parks. Colorado state law allows individuals to consume alcoholic beverages in public places that contain 3.2% or less ABV. Unfortunately, very few alcoholic drinks contain such low ABV. Be extremely cautious, as only some wine spritzers and light beers qualify to be consumed in public spaces such as parks without a permit.
How COVID-19 Changed Colorado’s Open Container Laws
On March 21, 2020, Governor Jared Polis temporarily suspended certain alcohol beverage statutes, allowing restaurants, bars, and breweries to sell and deliver adult drinks to customers who also ordered food. As of that date, mixed drinks are permitted to be sold in cups or containers that are securely closed with tape. Plastic lids are acceptable, as long as any holes are sealed with tape and no straw is inserted into the lid. That doesn’t mean people are permitted to drink their somewhat open containers in their cars or in public; in fact, each beverage is required to include the following warning label: “WARNING: DO NOT OPEN OR REMOVE SEAL WHILE IN TRANSIT. Purchasers are subject to state and local laws prohibiting drinking or possessing open containers of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles, including section 42-4-1305, C.R.S.”
Penalties for Open Container Violations
If a person is charged with a class A traffic infraction CRS 42-4-1305, driving with an open container of alcohol; fees begin at $50. Criminal charges can greatly increase if the driver is or has been drinking alcohol. A breathalyzer can be administered by the police and DUI charges applied to individuals caught drinking and driving. Fees, jail time, probation, community service, and loss of license may result from drinking and driving, especially with an open container in the car.
Is Marijuana Subject to Open Container Laws in Colorado?
Colorado’s open container laws for marijuana are similar to those of alcohol. Having an open container of marijuana in a motor vehicle is a traffic infraction under CRS 42-4-1305.5.
An “open marijuana container” has a broad definition under Colorado law. Specifically, it is defined as, “a receptacle or marijuana accessory that contains any amount of marijuana, and:
- That is open or has a broken seal;
- The contents of which are partially removed; and
- There is evidence that marijuana has been consumed within the motor vehicle.”
A container alone—whether it’s the packaging in which the marijuana was purchased from a dispensary, a pipe, or a personal canister—may not be enough to be considered a traffic infraction; there must be evidence that the marijuana was consumed within the vehicle.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer
Contact a professional criminal defense lawyer if you have been charged with being in violation of an open container law. The law varies depending on whether you’re in a public space or in your vehicle with an open container of alcohol. Having an attorney that knows the law is your best defense. The law offices of M. Colin Bresee is well versed in Colorado open container laws. If you have been charged with an open container offense reach out immediately to schedule a consultation.