Minnesota’s Open Bottle (Container) Law

Minnesota’s open bottle law criminalizes consumption of alcohol and possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

By: Rebecca Pirius, Attorney

In Minnesota, it’s a misdemeanor to consume alcohol or possess an open container of alcohol in a vehicle that’s on a public road. Unlike with a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge, the open bottle (also called “open container”) law applies even if the driver is sober. This article provides an overview of the open bottle law’s prohibitions and exceptions.

Open Bottle Law

The open bottle law prohibits both drivers and passengers from consuming or possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle that’s on a public road.

Alcohol. The definition of alcohol includes:

  • alcoholic beverages (such as beer or wine)
  • distilled spirits (such as whiskey, rum, or brandy), and
  • 3.2 percent malt liquor (also known as “3.2 beer”).

Possession. Possession can be actual or “constructive.” Actual possession refers to alcohol being on one’s person—for example, holding a can of beer or hiding it under a jacket. Constructive possession, on the other hand, is when the container is in an area of the vehicle normally occupied by the driver or passengers. This definition includes the backseat, underneath seats, and the glove or utility compartment. However, constructive possession doesn’t include alcohol that’s in the trunk.

Vehicle. The open bottle law applies to motor vehicles—including motorcycles and off-road vehicles—on public roads, regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion. So, drinking in a vehicle parked on a public street violates the statute. The open bottle law, however, does not apply to motorboats.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. § 169A.35 (2017).)

Exempted Vehicles

Certain passenger vehicles such as buses, limousines, and pedal pubs are exempted from the law. Passengers in these vehicles may consume and possess alcohol, but drivers can’t.

Strict Liability for Owners and Drivers

Minnesota’s open bottle law places “strict liability” on a vehicle owner (or driver, if the owner is not present) who keeps or allows open containers of alcohol in the vehicle. Strict liability means the owner or driver is criminally responsible even if they didn’t know an open container of alcohol was in the vehicle. Also, a sober driver violates the open bottle law by allowing passengers to drink in the vehicle.

Penalties

Criminal. A violation of the open bottle law is a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor carries up to 90 days in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.

License sanctions. Driver’s license sanctions apply to juvenile offenders. An open bottle conviction results in loss of provisional driving privileges. The juvenile offender must then wait 12 months before applying for a regular driver’s license.

(Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 169A.35, 171.04, 171.05, 171.055 (2017).)

Possession of Marijuana in a Vehicle

Recreational marijuana is illegal in Minnesota, and possession is a crime. Penalties are generally based on the amount of marijuana in one’s possession. Although there are no open container marijuana laws, increased penalties apply if marijuana is found in the passenger area of a vehicle.

Typically, possession of a “small amount” of marijuana—defined by statute as 42.5 grams or less—is a petty misdemeanor. Petty misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $300—jail time isn’t possible. However, possession of more than 1.4 grams of marijuana in the passenger area of a vehicle is a misdemeanor and carries up to 90 days in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. A conviction also results in a 30-day driver’s license suspension. (Any possession of more than 42.5 grams of marijuana is a five-year felony.)

(Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 152.027, 152.0271, 171.172 (2017).)

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