Washington D.C.’s Open Container Laws, Penalties, and Consequences

Learn about the penalties for an open container conviction in the District of Columbia.

The D.C. code prohibits any person from consuming or possessing an alcoholic beverage in a vehicle if:

  • the beverage’s top, cap, cork, seal, or tab has been removed or broken, or
  • any of the contents of the beverage have been removed.

The open container rule is applicable to everyone in the car—driver and passengers included—and to any vehicle located on any street, alley, park, or parking lot.

Alcoholic beverage. D.C. defines alcoholic beverage to include any liquid or solid, containing alcohol capable of being consumed by a human being. This definition includes only substances of at least .5% alcohol by volume, so some non-alcoholic beers and mixers may be permitted.

Exceptions

Unlike the laws of many states, the D.C. code contains no exception allowing open containers to be stored in the trunk or other compartment of a vehicle. However, D.C. case law has established that “possession”—a necessary element to be found guilty—requires proof that the defendant:

  • knew of the presence of the open container
  • had the power to exercise "dominion and control" over the container, and
  • intended to exercise "dominion and control" over the container.

Case law clarified that an open container stored in the trunk or in the rear compartment of an SUV (away from the passenger area) was not considered within the possession of vehicle occupants.

Fines

A conviction for possessing an open container in D.C. is considered a misdemeanor. This will result in a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

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