Utah has some of the strictest alcohol laws in the United States. As such, people should be cautious when buying alcohol, especially if they are driving. The state can be pretty restrictive when it comes to its alcohol laws, but that does not mean alcohol consumption is prohibited. However, everything changes if you get caught and found guilty of breaching Utah’s open container or DUI laws. This is especially true since the minimum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) allowed in the state will soon be .05%.
One of the state’s alcohol laws people should be aware of is the open container law. Any person found guilty of breaking this particular state law can face several consequences. Our Salt Lake City open container violation lawyer at Overson Law explains more about this statute and the best way to avoid any violations. Our more than 15 years of experience has given us the knowledge and the skills necessary to handle this type of case. To schedule a free, confidential consultation about your case, call our law offices at (801) 758-2287 today.
Utah’s Open Container Laws and Penalties
Under state law, it’s illegal to transport an opened alcohol container in any vehicle within state limits. Title 41 of Utah’s Motor Vehicle Traffic Code § 41-6a-526(2) states that “A person may not drink any alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle or a class 2 electric-assisted bicycle…”. The law provision also extends to any passenger(s) in the vehicle. Additionally, a person could face criminal charges if they are caught carrying an alcohol container that’s been opened or its contents partially consumed.
Utah’s Criminal Penalties
Utah divides crimes into two major categories: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are considered the lesser type of criminal charges in the state. Typically, they carry the lesser penalties if convicted. Misdemeanors are divided into classes A, B, and C. People charged and convicted of a Class C misdemeanor will get the more “lenient” type of penalties.
In contrast, people convicted of a Class A misdemeanor will get the harshest penalties in this category. If you are convicted of a Class C misdemeanor, you can face up to 90 days in jail and up to $750 in fines. A criminal conviction for a Class B misdemeanor can lead up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. If you are convicted of a Class A misdemeanor, you can spend up to a year in jail and face up to $2,500 in fines.
Felonies are divided into third, second, and first degrees. As a general rule, the lower the degree number, the harsher the penalties. If you are convicted of a third-degree penalty in Utah, you can face up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. A criminal conviction for a second-degree felony can lead up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. However, if you are convicted of a first-degree felony, you may face up to life in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Many people may not know or disregard the potential penalties a criminal conviction can have and their impact on their lives. In addition to already crushing penalties, your criminal conviction can have lasting repercussions, even years after serving time. For instance, a criminal conviction in your record can make it very challenging to find a job, rent a home or apartment, or apply for a loan.
It is essential to understand the implications of a criminal conviction and their relation to an open container violation. The most important thing to remember is that you may face criminal charges either for a misdemeanor or felony, depending on your case’s circumstances. If you have been stopped by the police and charged with an open container violation, you need to contact an experienced Utah open container violation lawyer who can help you fight off your charges.
Common Charges for an Open Container Violation in Utah
Anybody found guilty of breaching Utah’s open container law could face fines and jail time. An open container violation is charged as Class C misdemeanor, the lowest criminal charge in the state. A person found guilty of breaching the open container law can face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750. If you incur in several violations of this statute, your charges and penalties could increase. Additionally, your situation may worsen if you are found guilty of driving under the influence (DUI) or if you are charged with an underage DUI.
Open Container Penalties and DUI
Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) is a very serious crime in Utah. As we mentioned, Utah has one of the most restricting DUI laws in the country. The criminal penalties associated with this specific crime can turn your life upside down in an instant. Suppose you are driving with an open container in your vehicle when a police officer stops you. The officer senses the smell of alcohol coming from your vehicle. In this case, the police officer can investigate whether you are driving with an open container in your car. If the police senses that you are impaired or under the effect of alcohol, you may be charged with DUI.
As we established, Utah has one of the most punishing DUI laws, and the criminal charges and penalties associated with it can be extremely harsh. For instance, you can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if this is your first offense. However, your charges can be upgraded to a Class A misdemeanor if there were passengers under the age of sixteen, if the passenger is under 18, with the driver being 21 years of age, or an accident occurs and causes bodily injury.
If you are charged and convicted of a second DUI within ten years of your first offense, you can face Class B misdemeanor penalties, which may include jail time and steep fines. A third or subsequent DUI offense can lead to third-degree felony charges. This means you can face many years in prison and crushing fines.
Suppose you are found in violation of Utah open container laws, and a police officer charges you with a DUI offense. In that case, you need the assistance of a skilled DUI and open container violations lawyer. At Overson Law, we can help you understand what to expect from your case and help you build a solid, strategic criminal defense.
Avoiding Penalties for Open Container Violations in a Car
As mentioned, it is illegal to carry and or transport alcohol containers in any vehicle if such containers have been opened. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Some of the exceptions that may help you avoid the penalties associated with open container rules in Utah include the following:
People can possess and consume alcohol as passengers on authorized cars such as limousines. Individuals could also possess an alcohol container in public buses. However, consumption of alcohol on these public vehicles is prohibited. Additionally, a person who resides in a motorhome or camper is allowed to consume alcohol in their living space.
Placing Alcohol Out of Reach
One of the ways you could avoid an open container violation is by placing the alcohol container in a place you nor your passenger(s) can reach while the vehicle is in motion. For instance, if you have an open bottle of wine in your car, it should be placed in the trunk of the vehicle where you or your passengers cannot reach. If your car does not have a trunk, you should place the alcohol containers in the back compartment or rear space, behind the last seat. Putting an open container in a place where it can be easily accessed such as the glove compartment can result in a violation of the statute.
The Constitution protects all individuals against unreasonable, illegal searches and seizures. To perform a valid search and seizure, a police officer must have probable cause. Probable cause is the standard every police officer must meet before performing a constitutionally valid arrest, search, or seizure. Probable cause can be defined as the perception of different facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe there is evidence of a crime. This standard applies to cases where a police officer stops a driver under the suspicion of impairment.
However, it is essential to understand that someone engaging in things such as speeding doesn’t mean a police officer has probable cause to believe you have an open container in your vehicle or you are impaired. To meet their required standard, a police officer must employ other means such as their sight or smell to have probable cause. If an officer stops you for speeding and sees a partially-consumed alcohol bottle within your reach, you can face open container violations. However, if there is a strong smell of alcohol coming from your car’s trunk, the officer may need a warrant to perform a valid search. If you or someone you know was stopped by the police and charged with an open container violation in Utah, you need to contact a Salt Lake City open container violations lawyer immediately.
As you can see, the State of Utah sets forth specific guidelines dictating how people should transport any alcohol container while driving their vehicle. Every individual should abide by these rules set forth by state law to avoid criminal charges. The safest, most obvious way to avoid penalties is keeping any alcohol container completely sealed. There is no need to risk facing penalties or jail time, especially with such restrictive laws in place.
Salt Lake City Open Container Violation Lawyer Offering Free Consultations
A Class C misdemeanor should always be addressed seriously and swiftly, despite being Utah’s lowest criminal charge. If a person is charged and convicted of a Class C misdemeanor, it will appear in their criminal background check. Having a criminal record can make things like finding a job and obtaining certain loans particularly hard. Don’t be fooled into thinking this criminal charge will merely fade away.
If you or someone you know has faced criminal charges for an open container violation, you need to seek legal help immediately. Our knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense lawyers have more than 15 years of experience handling open container cases in Salt Lake City and throughout Utah. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 today.