Open Container Laws in Oklahoma
With Oklahoma’s recent passage of to-go alcoholic beverages, many people question: does this violate open container laws? And what is the penalty to open container laws?
In August of 2021, Oklahoma passed a law allowing restaurants to sell single-serve alcoholic beverages to go. With the passage of this new law, many people are left confused on when it’s legal to transport alcoholic beverages and when it’s not. Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about open container laws.
It all comes down to the packaging
Believe it or not, the biggest factor that determines if you are violating the open container law is the way the alcohol is packaged. Restaurants and caterers are supposed to provide all alcoholic beverages to patrons in a so-called “tamper-proof” container.
For many restaurants and bars, these are simply gallon or half-gallon bottles similar to milk jugs. In order to access the drink inside, the customer must tear and remove a seal. For drinks of this type, it is essential that you do not “break the seal” before arriving at your destination. If you do open the seal, you are now transporting an “open” container and can be punished accordingly.
Punishment for Violations of the Open Container Law
A Violation of the open container law is a criminal misdemeanor. Each county within Oklahoma handles this type of violation differently, but generally speaking, transporting an open container carries a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months. Many counties, however, treat an open container violation the same way they would treat a traffic ticket. They write you a citation, and you must pay a fine. You may also be subject to additional requirements, such as a drug and alcohol assessment or community service. This typically occurs when an individual is driving under the influence and transporting an open container.
How Big Will the Fine be?
That’s entirely dependent on what kind of alcohol you’re transporting. This is because there are two different open container laws in Oklahoma:
(1) transporting an open container of beer
(2) transporting an open container of liquor
Transporting an open container of beer is most common. This is normally an individual with an open beer can in the cupholder of the vehicle. Transporting an open container of liquor is less common but includes everything from a mixed drink to a half-consumed bottle of whiskey. It can also be one of the drinks a restaurant serves you in a to-go container with a non-tamper-proof seal or with a tamper-proof seal that has been broken. While it is not required that the fine amount be higher on transporting an open container of alcohol, it typically is. In addition to any fine you are issued, you would be responsible for court costs, which tend to be much higher than the fine itself. For example, you may be issued a $50 fine for transporting an open container of beer, but court costs could be approximately $300, making the total cost for you $350.
Anyone in the Car Can Be Issued a Citation for an Open Container
One common misconception about open container laws is that only the driver can be cited for transporting an open container. That’s just not true. While it is most common that the driver of the vehicle gets the citation for the open container, anyone within the vehicle can be written a citation for an open container.
The Location of the Open Container Can Prevent you From Violating the Open Container Law
You may be wondering: how can I legally transport an open container of alcohol? Many of us have attended parties or dinners at a friend’s house and consumed only a portion of a bottle of liquor. Does this mean you have to leave the remainder at your friend’s house? No, it doesn’t. It also doesn’t mean you have to create a tamper-proof seal to get that bottle of liquor back home with you.
In order to comply with open container laws, you must place that bottle of liquor in the rear trunk or rear compartment of the vehicle AND ensure no one within the car can reach the bottle of liquor. As long as both of those conditions are met, you can legally transport an open bottle of liquor. The best thing you can do is place the bottle of liquor in the spare tire compartment of your vehicle because the law has a specific clause that permits storage in this location.
What exceptions are there?
There are a number of special exceptions to the open container laws that are specifically outlined in the open container statute.
While you’re a passenger of a limo, you may legally drink and transport an open container of alcohol. It is important to note that this exception only applies to the passengers of the limo, meaning that limo drivers can not drink or transport an open container.
Passengers on a charter bus with a hired driver may transport an open container. This type of bus is typically referred to as a party bus and is commonly used for bachelorette parties, bachelor parties, and group transportation to special events. Passengers of a city bus or school bus cannot transport an open container.
Open Containers in Public
Some cities allow people to walk around with an open container of alcohol, particularly large tourist cities like New Orleans. Unfortunately, in Oklahoma, that is still a crime. If you walk around with an open alcohol container in public, you are guilty of a criminal misdemeanor. Strangely, this isn’t a violation of the open container law, which only applies to vehicles. Instead, you would typically be charged with public intoxication.
If you have a pending charge for transporting an open container and are looking for an attorney to guide you through the process, contact us for a free consultation.