Washington D.C.’s Open Container Laws and Violation Penalties

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

In Washington D.C., it's illegal to consume alcohol or have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. This article covers Washington D.C.'s open container law and the penalties for a violation.

Washington D.C.'s Open Container Law

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.

D.C. defines alcoholic beverages 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 to D.C.'s Open Container Rule

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.

The courts have clarified that an open container stored in the trunk or in the rear compartment of an SUV (away from the passenger area) is not considered within the possession of vehicle occupants.

Fines for Open Container Tickets in D.C.

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

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