New Jersey, like the majority of states, has an open container law. Under New Jersey’s open container law, NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-51b (2013), all occupants (whether the occupant is the driver or just a passenger) of a motor vehicle located on a public highway, or the right-of-way of a public highway, shall be prohibited from possessing any open or unsealed alcoholic beverage container.
**However, this law does not apply “to a passenger of a charter or special bus operated as defined under R.S.48:4-1 or a limousine service.” (See below for more specific definitions of these types of vehicles that form exceptions to the law.)
R.S. 48:4-1 defines “charter bus operation” as used in this chapter. It “means and includes the operation of an autobus or autobuses, not on a regular schedule, by the person owning or leasing such bus or buses pursuant to a contract, agreement or arrangement to furnish an autobus or autobuses and a driver or drivers thereof to a person, group of persons or organization (corporate or otherwise) for a trip designated by such person, group of persons or organization for a fixed charge per trip, per autobus, per period of time or per mile.”
R.S. 48:4-1 defines a “special bus operation” as used in this chapter it “means and includes the operation by the owner or lessee of an autobus or autobuses for the purpose of carrying passengers for hire, not on a regular schedule, each passenger paying a fixed charge for his carriage, on a special trip arranged and designated by such owner or lessee, which fixed charge may or may not include special premiums.”
NJ Rev Stat § 48:16-13.1 (2014) defines a limousine as “In a county of the first class with a population density of over 10,000 persons per square mile, according to the latest federal decennial census, “limousine” means and includes any automobile or motor car which is issued special registration plates bearing the word “limousine” pursuant to section 12 of P.L.1979, c.224 (C.39:3-19.5) and is engaged in the business of carrying passengers for hire to provide prearranged passenger transportation at a premium fare on a dedicated, nonscheduled, charter basis that is not conducted on a regular route and with a seating capacity in no event of more than 14 passengers, not including the driver, provided, that such a motor vehicle shall not have a seating capacity in excess of four passengers, not including the driver, beyond the maximum passenger seating capacity of the vehicle, not including the driver, at the time of manufacture. A limousine shall not include a vehicle owned and operated directly or indirectly by a business engaged in the practice of mortuary science when that vehicle is used exclusively for providing transportation related to the provision of funeral services.”
Some key points to know about New Jersey’s open container law under N.J.S.A. 39:4-51b
- A person is NOT found to be in violation of this open container law, “if the opened or unsealed container of an alcoholic beverage is such container is located in the trunk of a motor vehicle, behind the last upright seat in a trunkless vehicle [such as an SUV without a separate sealed off trunk from the rest of the car], or in the living quarters of a motor home or house trailer.”
- The term “open or unsealed” shall mean a container with its original seal broken or a container such as a glass or cup. An open or unsealed alcoholic beverage can also include something as cup with alcohol in it.
- A person does not actually have to be consuming this open or unsealed container of alcohol in the vehicle to be found in violation of the law.
- #CruizinandBoozing—many people often take to-go cups or road drinks in a disposable cup when they get in the car to go out; popular culture even has a term for this type of drink—a “roadie”. UrbanDictionary.com, a crowdsourced website that defines slang or cultural words or phrases not typically found in standard dictionaries, defines a roadie as beer or alcoholic beverage for the car drive/ride – as in “We took a couple of Roadies to drink in the car for the drive.”com also defines the term “roadie soadie” as “o crack opena beer in the car (usually after work) and drive around and drink the beer.”
- An open or unsealed alcoholic beverage contatiner could include something as seemingly innocuous as a bottle of wine that has been uncorked, even if it hasn’t even been consumed yet and there is no liquid missing from the bottle.
- On the website for the New Jersey Dept. of Law and Public Safety-Office of the Attorney General, the Division of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) answered the following frequently asked question: “May a patron take from a restaurant an unfinished portion of wine in an alcoholic beverage version of a “doggy bag?”
ABC answered, “Yes. It is the policy of the State to encourage moderation in the consumption of alcoholic beverages. To permit a diner to take home an unfinished portion of the bottle of wine, rather than consume it all to prevent “waste” of his purchase, furthers that policy. Thus, all unfinished bottles of wine may be re-corked and the patron can take them with him/her. However, Removal of other open containers of alcoholic beverages from the licensed premises, such as a glass of wine, a mixed drink, an opened bottle or can of beer, is still prohibited. Licensees should caution patrons using wine “doggy bags” that the wine should be placed in the trunk of the patron’s car while in transit because Motor Vehicle Law prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverage in a car and the presence of a container with its original seal broken in a motor vehicle (buses, taxi cabs and limousines are excluded) can give rise to a presumption that the unfinished bottle was consumed in the car.
What are the penalties in New Jersey for being convicted of violating this open container law?
- 1st offense: person shall be fined $200 and shall be informed by the court of the penalties for a second or subsequent violation of this section.
- 2nd or subsequent offense: For a second or subsequent offense, a person shall be fined $250 or shall be ordered by the court to perform community service for a period of 10 days in such form and on such terms as the court shall deem appropriate under the circumstances
While to many a fine of $200 does not seem like a significant amount of money, but don’t be fooled by this “oh, it’s just 200 bucks… that’s no big deal kind of thinking.” As is the case with many other second or subsequent violations of some minor offenses, it is the secondary or subsequent effect of the violations that carries a much larger, lasting impact on the convicted individual. With a New Jersey open container violation, the more significant impact is not the upfront financial fine but rather having a conviction for an open container violation on your driving record. This tarnish on your driving record can have far-reaching and serious effects, such as causing your car insurance rates to soar or being denied car insurance coverage altogether, denial of job opportunities that require clean driving records, or causing a negative impact on your future encounters with the police. Additionally, and importantly, we see quite often that New Jersey DWI defendants are also often charged with an open container violation. If there is evidence to show the defendant had an open continer in his or her vehicle in violation of the law, then this is often used as an aggravating factor and can be strong evidence to help the prosecution prove your DWI charge as well.
We urge you not to take this charge lightly but rather act in a prudent, responsible, and forward-thinking manner and seek out legal representation from a criminal defense attorney or traffic defense attorney who has experience representing clients charged with New Jersey open container violations or DWI violations coupled together with open container violations.
If you or a loved one has been charged with violating New Jersey’s open container law, the Law Office of Eric M. Mark and his team of skilled, aggressive criminal defense lawyers and traffic defense lawyers can provide you with legal advice concerning your charges and will advocate on behalf of your best interests at all steps of the legal process.
Law Office of Eric M. Mark NEWARK OFFICE
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Newark, NJ 07102
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Jersey City, NJ 07302
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Cranford, NJ 07016
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