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LuckyGuy's avatar

Would I be violating your community's open container laws if I stopped to pick up a discarded beer can or vodka bottle while walking?

Asked by LuckyGuy (38416points) March 12th, 2015

I just dropped my car off at the garage to get its annual safety inspection. The sun is out and the temperature was just below freezing so I decided to walk the two miles and enjoy the gorgeous day.
The snow is starting to melt, uncovering all kinds of nasties that have been buried in the feet of snow, including: snow plow markers, mail boxes, a deer carcass, and many beer cans and liquor bottles. I picked up a blue Skyy vodka bottle so it would not be broken and crushed by car tires and continued walking home. While walking it occurred to me I could very well be in violation of an open container law for carrying an open bottle of an alcoholic beverage while walking on a public street. Clearly I was not going to drink the disgusting liquid that was inside – likely melted snow and maybe residual vodka(shudder), but could some officer charge me?

In my opinion, Good Samaritans should not get in trouble for trying to help. Theoretically, can the parent who drives a bunch of girls scouts to a road clean up project be charged with endangerment or something else because they helped under-age scouts pick up open beer cans?

Does your state, community have similar laws? How do they exclude people who are just being nice and are cleaning up the neighborhood?

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26 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

If I am not mistaken, at least in my jurisdiction, the key point is not the container, but the alcohol itself.

In other words, I can be arrested if I am carrying my vodka tonic in a dixie cup and walking down the street.

If the Skyy bottle was empty then you’re probably OK. If it were full (and sealed) you’re OK. If it’s half full and open, there may be some risk.

But a reasonable policeman would take that into account. And probably have you pour it out.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I thought is was the container itself. If it was just the liquid then people could quickly pour it on the ground. As for the vodka bottle, it was about 10–20% full of liquid, obviously melting ice and snow but still could be alcohol if someone wanted to be nasty. By the time I got home I was able to shake out everything that was inside and toss it in the blue box for recycling. .

Take the word “reasonable” out of your sentence and put in “spiteful”. Could I be charged?

johnpowell's avatar

People in my neighborhood live off of pushing carts full of cans around all day for the 5 cents per can they can get back.

I think you are safe if you are white.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@johnpowell Believe me. That thought crossed my mind.

I recently read NY traffic law requires that returnable bottles and cans be in the trunk of the car or inaccessible to the driver. Theoretically, that means if someone going to the grocery and tosses their bag of returnable bottles on the floor in front of the passenger seat (where most people do when they are going to the store) they are breaking the law and can be charged. Something is not right. I wonder how other states do it.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@LuckyGuy – probably if the person is spiteful. I’ll ask my son in law what the rule is in our county.

But it’s one thing to make an arrest and another one to make it stick if the person goes to court.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@elbanditoroso Thanks for checking. I know why they have the law They want to prevent or reduce public drunkenness. I get it. But how do they discriminate between the Girl Scouts collecting cans and holding a beer can that might be half filled with beer (or pee) and a couple drunk college kids holding a beer can that might be half filled with beer ( or pee).
Common sense is not allowed to enter into the equation.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m pretty sure we don’t have open container laws in this state except for while driving.

When I first moved to Michigan that was the first time I ever heard of an open container law.

Coloma's avatar

I doubt that you would be at risk, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to ascertain a cast away booze bottle from a brand new bottle. Why not just start carrying a plastic bag for your trash encounters? I have picked up beer cans and trash and put them in the trunk of my car to dispose of later.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Coloma Actually I often do have a plastic bag in a coat pocket. That, a spare set of mechanics gloves, and 2 hankies. You never know. (That is why we have pockets.)
Sure, common sense would tell anyone that I was not drinking vodka from that disgusting bottle. But if an “officer” wanted to be a prick I was wondering if he/she could accuse me of a violation.

Coloma's avatar

@LuckyGuy Maybe, but a sobriety test would lay that ghost bottle to rest. haha

rojo's avatar

I remember a time shortly after I got out of college when an acquaintance got ticketed for having five cans in a six-pack container in the front seat with him. My thought was that he had probably been uncooperative with the cop. Turns out he was a smart-ass when the officer asked about it.
Temple cops were/are not known for their sense of humor.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@rojo And I’ll bet those 5 cans weren’t open!

CWOTUS's avatar

I expect that most jurisdictions “handle” this by not policing it too much. But I think your concerns are not altogether unfounded. It does seem that a malicious and spiteful or simply ignorant, new and overly-officious (the Barney Fife type) could certainly make a stink. But I doubt that such a charge would rise beyond the level of harassment or (potentially) a civil infraction (ticket) that you may simply pay as being less costly in terms of lost time and PITA than it would be to fight it. (Though I would imagine that fighting such a ticket – especially in front of a jury – would result in a failed prosecution unless there were extenuating – militating – circumstances that made this just one charge among many, for example.)

Good luck in court!

LuckyGuy's avatar

I will continue to flout the law and pick up discarded trash – even if it happens to be a discarded alcoholic beverage container that I find alongside the road.

I still wonder how other communities handle this issue. Do their rules more clearly define the problem.

Think about the ridiculous example I mentioned above: A scout leader takes a bunch of Girl Scouts to work on a project cleaning up a section of road. A few of the girls pick up beer cans that have liquid in them, spilling on their hands and/or splashing it on their clothes.
When they return home the parent, smelling both beer and a potential lawsuit, immediately contacts Shyster and Shyster who call the police to have the leader arrested for open container violations and contributing to the delinquency of minors.

rojo's avatar

Hey! How do we know you were not on the way to throw that bottle and trash on the side of the road somewhere away from your house?

LuckyGuy's avatar

@rojo Exactly! Officer Fife could say he suspected I was littering.

David_Achilles's avatar

There a lot of diversity. For example, in New Jersey you cannot even have an open container in a car whether it is the driver or passenger and even if neither is intoxicated. Some states let you have a partially consumed bottle of wine in a car. I assume this is a consideration for those returning from a BYOB restaurant? But if you really want the full list check out this compendium. Not sure how fully it covers pedestrians though.

josie's avatar

Aren’t you cutting it pretty thin?

LuckyGuy's avatar

@David_Achilles That is a fantastic list. Thank you! Thank you! It’s exactly what I was looking for!
It answered my question about open containers in cars. Yes. I am in violation if I pick up a container off the ground and toss it in the back seat to throw away later. It must be in the trunk. Other states permit it if the containers are inside other bags so Girl Scouts collecting recycling are ok. NY does not have that.

After reading through much of the list it is clear, in many states, spiteful police officers can sit in grocery store parking lots and ticket people all day for having their returnable bottles in a bag on the front seat or in the passenger compartment. Ridiculous. Who knew….

LuckyGuy's avatar

Wow! How about this one in California. I wonder what action “necessitated” that law.

Cal. Business & Professions Code ยง25608.5
(a) On the portion of the Lower American River, as defined in ยง5841 of the Public Resources Code, from the Hazel Avenue Bridge to the Watt Avenue Bridge, a person in a nonmotorized vessel shall not possess a container with an alcoholic beverage, whether opened or closed, during the summer holiday periods that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors prohibits the consumption or possession of an open alcoholic beverage container on the land portions along the river.

rojo's avatar

@LuckyGuy If I were to guess, I would say that you have a bunch of drunk tubers, fishermen and/or canoiests being obnoxious and trashing out the river with their empties including bottles which get broken and are a danger to others wading in the water.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@rojo That’s probably it. I was browsing the list and saw that in the French Quarter you can drink out of plastic cups while walking on the road. I guess they’re afraid of glass bottles. You can buy Frozen Daiquiris and Jello shots in syringes at the drive-through-daiquiri store. They come with a piece of tape over the opening so they are considered sealed! Wow!
At the other extreme is NY where I am (theoretically) in violation of the open container law if I pick up a beer can someone left in the road front of my house.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@LuckyGuy Huh, it’s still a bit crazy that you can’t transport closed bottles or cans over water. I recall rafting in Calgary every summer and seeing the river patrol continually watching for open containers. They never did catch us. ;)

The likelihood of nabbing someone with a closed container seems pretty slim. Perhaps it’s a means of charging people if they’re suspected of something else.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@dappled_leaves Incredible isn’t it? Did you see you can’t even have closed containers on the shoreline?!
Someone once told me anyone could be arrested any time for something. Some of those laws listed above add credibility to the statement.
I can see how they can be abused by a nefarious police agency. If the police department needed to pad their budget they could sit at a the bottle return facility and just ticket people all day for carrying their bag of empties on the front seat.

This reminds me of a police union action where, rather than striking illegally, they decided “strict enforcement” was a more effective scheme. They sat alongside the Long Island Expressway, posted “Speed Limit 60 MPH Max, 40 MPH Min”. Traffic is terrible during rush hour, with cars crawling along for miles. The police walked along side and ticketed cars for traveling slower than 40 MPH. They also parked near bridges that had weight limits of 2 Tons and ticketed cars that had a registration GVW of more than 4000 pounds. They got a lot of Cadillacs.
Tickets were eventually thrown out but not before causing much heartache.

rojo's avatar

@LuckyGuy they have a similar ordinance on the Guadalupe. For years they did not but then the crowds came and with it the overindulgence and abuse of privilege that ruined it for those who were more restrained and cared about the environment we were floating through and upon. It is always the assholes who ruin it for the majority.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@LuckyGuy Yeah, this is the biggest problem (in my view) with laws that prohibit a wide range of activities, or that are open to liberal interpretation. It gives a carte blanche to police, who we can’t assume will be fair or reasonable, based on their own actions. If they want someone in jail, they can put them in jail. That shouldn’t be their right.

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