It is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle anywhere in New Jersey. This law applies to everyone in the vehicle—both drivers and passengers. In addition, a person can be penalized under NJ’s open container law regardless if the vehicle is on a public highway or parked in a parking lot.
What is the Open Container Law?
N.J.S.A. 39:4-51b applies to any liquid beverage that is more than 0.5% alcohol. The container is considered “open” if the factory seal has been broken. This includes recorked or resealed bottles, as well as cups and glasses. Essentially, any container from which a person could or could have consumed liquid is considered “open.”
In addition, a person can be presumed to have drunk the contents of the container if:
- The container is located in the passenger compartment of a vehicle,
- The contents of the container have been partially removed, and
- There is physical evidence consistent with that of a person having consumed alcohol (e.g. slurred speech, the smell of alcohol on breath, etc.).
Exceptions to NJ Open Container Law
There are several exceptions to New Jersey’s open container law. For example, open containers may be legally kept in the trunk of a vehicle or behind the backseat of a vehicle that does not have a trunk compartment. In addition, passengers may consume alcohol in legally authorized limousines and buses. Lastly, alcohol may be consumed in the living area of a motorhome or house trailer provided the vehicle is not in operation.
Penalties and Fines
A violation of NJ’s open container law is considered a traffic violation. A conviction means a fine of $200, but no points. Subsequent offenses can cost as much as $250 and result in up to 10 days of community service.
Since the offense is not a crime, it will not result in a criminal record. However, it will appear on one’s driving record.
Open Container Law and NJ Beaches
Nearly all of New Jersey’s beaches ban the consumption of alcohol. Many beaches even have checkpoints where state park officials will search bags for any container of alcohol, open or otherwise. Many beachgoers try to skirt around these checkpoints by filling non-alcoholic beverage containers (e.g. Coca-Cola bottles) with booze. Those who do this do so at their own risk—a lifeguard or police officer who smells alcohol can check the contents of the bottles and issue a fine and/or confiscate the drinks.
Drinking alcohol on a beach is a separate offense from NJ’s open container law. The exact fine and other penalties depend on the municipality and can range from $150 to as much as $2,000 in some towns, villages, and cities. Jail time is possible but community service is more likely in most cases.
How To Beat NJ Open Container Law Charges
How to beat a citation for NJ’s open container law will depend on the circumstances of the case. If the container was discovered following a search of the vehicle, then it may be possible to argue that the search was illegal, which would allow one’s attorney to prevent the evidence of the open container from being used against one at trial. Other defenses will be based on the facts of the case, the evidence against the defendant, and any other possible charges that may be filed against him/her as well (e.g. DWI).
Case Law Analysis
Consequences for Juveniles
A juvenile (a person under the age of 18) with an open container of alcohol in a vehicle can face serious trouble. A separate statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-15, makes it a disorderly persons offense for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase, consume, or possess alcoholic beverages, including in a vehicle. If the defendant is over 18 but under 21, he/she can face a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the person is under 18, then he/she will face juvenile delinquency hearings in Family Court and could potentially be sentenced to time at a juvenile detention facility.
In addition, any person under 21 caught in possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle can have his/her license suspended for 6 months, even if he/she wasn’t driving!
Expunge NJ Open Container Law
Since NJ’s open container law is considered a traffic offense, it cannot be expunged. New Jersey records all traffic convictions permanently. A citation for having alcohol on a public beach is a civil offense that can be removed from one’s record 2 years after the defendant has satisfied the conditions of the sentence (i.e. paid the fine and completed jail or supervision). Likewise, a conviction for underage possession of alcohol can also be expunged after a period of 5 years following the satisfaction of the sentencing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been cited for violating NJ’s open container law or for any other traffic offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney for help. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled traffic ticket and criminal defense attorneys with offices in New York and New Jersey. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.