Contributor: Adam Justinger
If you have lived in North Dakota for any extended period of time, you have probably heard a local or North Dakota resident talk about a “To-Go Cup”, or you may have been offered one yourself after leaving a local establishment. Generally, when someone uses this term, it references taking an alcoholic beverage with you when you leave the bar. If you have never been offered a to-go cup, have you ever traveled with a partially opened case of beer? Although I do not encourage or condone this type of behavior, the reality is it is quite common to be offered a to-go cup or to travel with a partially opened container of alcohol in a vehicle. So what happens if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer after partaking in these types of activities?
What Is An Open Container?
The above question seems very obvious…wouldn’t an open container just be an open beer or mixed drink in a cup? Although both of these descriptions would be considered an open container, the definition is actually much broader than what most people imagine. Under North Dakota statute, an open container is considered to be “Any bottle or receptacle containing alcoholic beverages which have been opened, or the seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed.” While an open beer and a mixed drink in a cup meet this definition, so does a bottle of alcohol that has been previously opened and is now being transported in your vehicle. An open case of beer would also likely meet this definition because it is a receptacle that contains alcoholic beverages. Some other examples could include a water bottle that contains alcohol, a recorked bottle of wine, a flask, or a partially consumed beer growler.
The Law And Transportation
The North Dakota law states “A person may not have in that person’s possession on that person’s person while in or on a private motor vehicle upon a public highway or in an area used principally for public parking, any bottle or receptacle containing alcoholic beverages which have been opened, or the seal is broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed.” It is also unlawful for the owner or the driver of the vehicle, to keep open containers or allow open containers to be kept in a motor vehicle when such vehicle is upon the public highway or in an area used principally for public parking. This means, that any person inside of the vehicle may not have an open container. It also means that the owner or driver of the vehicle may not allow open containers to be located inside of the vehicle. So, whether it is a to-go cup or a partially consumed bottle of Captain Morgan from the night before, it is unlawful to have the container inside of your vehicle.
The question you are probably asking is “If I cannot have an open container inside of my vehicle, how can I transport a container of alcohol that is already opened?” The law provides specific instructions on how open containers can be transported in North Dakota. An open container may be kept in the trunk of a motor vehicle or kept in some other area of the vehicle not normally occupied by the driver or passengers if the motor vehicle is not equipped with a trunk. Thus, if you have an open case of beer and a recorked bottle of wine, to legally transport them, they need to be in the trunk of your vehicle, or in the back of your pickup truck. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, the containers must be stored somewhere outside of the driver and passengers control/occupied area. It is important to note, that a utility compartment or glove compartment is considered to be an area occupied by the driver or passenger and open containers cannot be kept there.
Motorhomes, House Cars, And Party Buses
The above law does not prohibit the consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages in a house car (motorhome) in the area of the house car used as a sleeping or living quarters as long as it is separated from the driving compartment. However, consumption is not permitted while the house car is in motion. So, how do limousines and party buses abide by the law? North Dakota law carved out an exception for these types of businesses. The law does not apply to a public conveyance that has been commercially chartered for group use, any passenger for compensation in a for-hire motor vehicle, or a privately owned motor vehicle operated by a person in the course of that person’s usual employment transporting passengers at the employer’s direction. However, the operator still cannot consume alcohol in these types of situations.
So, What Is The Possible Penalty?
Any person who violates the North Dakota open container statute will be assessed a fee of fifty dollars. If you are a passenger who violates the statute, the licensing authority may not record the violation against your driving record. However, if the person charged with an open container is a driver of the motor vehicle at the time that the violation occurred, the licensing authority may record the violation against the person’s driving record.
Open container laws can be complex, and seeking legal representation may be in your best interest. If you have a criminal issue in North Dakota, please do not hesitate to call the Criminal Defense Team at SW&L Attorneys in Fargo at 701-297-2890.
This article is only meant to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice.