In Minnesota, driving around with an open container of alcohol in your car is a good way to attract attention from police officers, possible ending in a breath test. However, even those drivers that are found to be sober will still face charges in connection with the open container violation. To find out more about Minnesota’s open bottle law, keep reading.
What does the law say?
The law concerning open containers (or open bottles, as the issue is referred to in Minnesota) is found in Minnesota Statutes Section 169A.35. The law makes clear that it is a crime to drink alcohol in a motor vehicle when that vehicle is in operation. Not only is drinking the alcohol a crime, possessing any alcoholic beverage that has been opened, had its seal broken or had any portion of its contents removed can lead to criminal charges.
Surprising to many Minnesotans, the law says that it is also a crime for owners of vehicles where open bottles are found, even if the owner of the car is not present at the time. That means if you own the car that is found to be involved in an open container violation, you could still be in hot water even if you were not present at the time.
Definition of an open bottle
Minnesota’s open bottle law goes to great lengths to define what is, and what is not, considered an open container. The statute divides open bottles into three main categories: alcoholic beverages, distilled spirits and malt beverages. Alcoholic beverages are defined as those including more than 0.5 percent of alcohol by volume. Distilled spirits include wine, whiskey, rum, brandy, gin and many other beverages containing ethyl alcohol. Finally, malt liquor is defined as any beverage made by fermentation that contains 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume.
All three are forbidden to be in a car when it is in operation and the presence of any one of the three can lead to criminal charges.
Exceptions to the law
The law says that the possession of any open container inside a vehicle on a Minnesota street or highway is illegal. However, this seemingly clear statement comes with several important caveats. For one thing, the law only applies to beverages that are contained in parts of the vehicle accessible to the driver or passengers. That means open bottles in the trunk cannot be a basis for criminal charges.
Another exception is that the open bottle law does not apply to all motor vehicles. ATVs that are not operated on public roadways, boats, party buses and private limousines are all excluded from the open container laws.
Those who are found to have violated Minnesota’s open bottle law face misdemeanor charges. Conviction for an open bottle violation can include up to 90 days behind bars and fines of up to $1,000. Though open bottle violations are not the most serious alcohol-related crimes in Minnesota, the penalties for conviction can till be steep and lead to harms outside the legal system, including dramatically increased insurance rates.
Source: “OPEN CONTAINER AND OPEN CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL STATE STATUTES,” published at NCSL.org.