What are the open container laws in SC?
Alcohol possession, use, and transport are heavily regulated in our state, and there are several criminal offenses in SC that are related to open containers or other alcohol violations. In this article, we will go over some of the more common criminal charges that result from alcohol violations, including:
- SC open container laws,
- Other SC alcohol laws,
- Municipal offenses, and
- Pretrial diversion options for alcohol charges.
Open Container Laws in SC
Alcohol laws in SC cover more than open containers or driving while intoxicated – the use, possession, sale, and distribution of alcohol is heavily regulated, and violations can result in civil or criminal fines, loss of your business license, or even jail time.
Apart from DUI offenses, open container violations are the most common alcohol charges that we see – what are the open container laws in SC?
SC state law makes it illegal to have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle – a misdemeanor offense that carries up to 30 days in prison if you are convicted. There are two separate laws – one that prohibits the possession of an open container of beer or wine in a vehicle and another that prohibits the possession of an open container of liquor in a vehicle.
Open Container of Beer or Wine
SC Code § 61-4-110 prohibits possession of an open container of beer or wine in a vehicle unless it is transported in a closed container:
It is unlawful for a person to have in his possession, except in the trunk or luggage compartment, beer or wine in an open container in a motor vehicle of any kind while located upon the public highways or highway rights of way of this State. This section must not be construed to prohibit the transporting of beer or wine in a closed container, and this section does not apply to vehicles parked in legal parking places during functions such as sporting events where law enforcement officers are on duty to perform traffic control duties. A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than one hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days.
But what is beer or wine for purposes of SC’s open container laws? You must look at the alcohol content of the beverage – “beer or wine means any beer or wine containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume.”
Open Container of Liquor
SC Code § 61-6-4020 makes it illegal to transport an open bottle of liquor in a vehicle:
A person who is twenty-one years of age or older may transport lawfully acquired alcoholic liquors to and from a place where alcoholic liquors may be lawfully possessed or consumed. If the cap or seal on the container has been opened or broken, it is unlawful to transport the liquors in a motor vehicle, except in a trunk, luggage compartment, or cargo area that is separate and distinct from the driver’s and passengers’ compartments. For purposes of this exception, the luggage compartment or cargo area is not required to be a closed trunk that is accessible only from the exterior of the motor vehicle. A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be fined not more than one hundred dollars or imprisoned for not more than thirty days. For purposes of this section, alcoholic liquors means all distilled spirits regardless of the percentage of alcohol by volume that they contain.
You can carry a bottle of liquor in your car – if the cap or seal has not been broken, and if you are at least 21 years old, you can carry the bottle anywhere in your vehicle. If the seal has been broken, you can still transport the bottle, but it must be “in a trunk, luggage compartment, or cargo area that is separate and distinct from the driver’s and passengers’ compartments.”
Other Alcohol Laws in SC that Result in Criminal Charges
Many other alcohol laws can result in arrest and criminal charges, including state-level and municipal-level offenses. Some of the more common charges we see include:
- Driving under the influence and DUI-related charges like driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC), felony DUI, and child endangerment,
- Selling alcohol to someone who is under the age of 21,
- Lying about your age to buy alcohol,
- Buying alcohol for someone who is underaged,
- Giving alcohol to someone who is underaged, and
- Buying, attempting to buy, drinking, or possessing alcohol if you are under the age of 21.
Municipal Offenses for Open Container
While state-level open container laws prohibit the possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle, many municipalities have enacted ordinances making it illegal to possess an open container anywhere in public.
For example, the City of Columbia’s municipal code § 14-99 prohibits the possession of an open container of alcohol “in or on any public street, road, alley, sidewalk, tree zone, parking garage or park within the city:”
Except as expressly provided in this section, it shall be unlawful for any person to consume, or to possess in an open container, any alcoholic beverage in or on any public street, road, alley, sidewalk, tree zone, parking garage or park within the city.
Like the state-level disorderly conduct offense, the City of Columbia and other municipalities also make it a crime to be drunk in public:
Any person who shall be found drunk or intoxicated in the corporate limits of the city in any place, public or private, so as to be offensive to others shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable, upon conviction, in accordance with section 1-5.
Pretrial Diversion Programs for Alcohol Violations
If you are charged with open container, don’t pay a fine – if you do, you have been convicted and the charge will go on your criminal record.
You may have options including defenses to the charges that you are unaware of or pretrial diversion programs like AEP (alcohol education program). If your prosecutor agrees to send your case to AEP, you will:
- Pay a fee for the program,
- Complete community service hours,
- Get your case dismissed, and
- Have all records of the arrest expunged.
If you don’t qualify for the AEP program, there may be other options to keep your record clean – contact your criminal defense lawyer immediately after your arrest to find out what your options are.
Questions About Open Container Laws in SC?
The Myrtle Beach and Columbia, SC criminal defense lawyers at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.
If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.