Violating the open container laws in SC is easier to do than you might think.
You may be walking down the street a short distance to a friend’s house with a beer in hand, or taking a ride with someone just around the corner with an open container in the car. Perhaps you simply take your drink along because the destination is close or it is the first drink of the night.
All of these scenarios are in violation of state law and/or local ordinances.
Basics of the Open Container Law in SC
According to South Carolina law, it is illegal to have an open container of beer or wine in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle.
By definition, an “open container” is any container that has previously been opened. A re-capped beer bottle or wine with a stopper or cork pushed back into the top still counts as an open container.
Under the law, beer or wine is any liquid that contains one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume. This would qualify nearly all commercially sold beers and wines as beer and wine under state law. This would exclude non-alcohol beers and wines.
What is Allowed?
This does not mean that you cannot transport beer or wine at all.
You can transport beer or wine in closed containers in any part of your vehicle. If you have to transport beer or wine that has previously been opened, you can do so without breaking the law by keeping the beer or wine in the trunk or luggage compartment.
You can also have open beer or wine in the passenger compartment if you are parked in a legal parking space or at a function where beer and wine are allowed, such as a sporting event tailgate.
Walking around in public with an open drink might qualify as a violation of the open container law. It will depend, however, on where you are. Unlike transporting alcohol in a vehicle, being in public with an open drink is not necessarily against state law. However, it could violate a local ordinance and most municipalities prohibit open containers in public places.
In the City of Charleston, for instance, it is illegal to consume beer, wine or any other alcoholic beverage on streets, sidewalks, or public ways. In this city, you also cannot have an open container of alcohol at a public park or playground unless the city has issued a special permit to allow alcohol for an event.
Many other cities have local ordinances that are very similar to Charleston’s. This makes it especially difficult to know when and where you can drink in public. To be on the safe side, check local ordinances before you take an open container in public.
There are some places where having an open container in public is legal, one example is Savannah, Georgia.
Even though the differences in local ordinances can make knowing what to do difficult, it is important to remember that not knowing the law is not an excuse for breaking it.
Potential Penalties for Violating Open Container Laws
Under South Carolina law, you could face jail time or fines if you are convicted of an open container violation in a motor vehicle.
The potential penalties include:
- Charge: Misdemeanor
- Penalties: Jail for up to 30 days or Fine of up to $100 plus court costs.
The presiding judge would ultimately have the discretion to sentence you to within the range provided under the law.
This means the particular judge you happen to appear before could impact the consequences you will face if convicted.
Common Questions About Open Container Laws
Open container laws can seem very specific. Explore the common questions below to better understand how these laws could apply to you.
What are open container laws?
Open container laws are laws that restrict your ability to have an open container of alcohol. An open container is any container on which the seal is broken. Even if you attempt to reclose the container, it is still an open container.
Are flasks open containers?
Yes, flasks are considered open containers. Even though your flask may have a screw or cork top, the alcohol in it is not in the original sealed container.
Can you have an open container in the trunk?
If you have to transport alcohol that has previously been opened, you should do it in the trunk. Yes, it is legal to have an open container in the trunk or (if you don’t have a trunk) in the luggage compartment of the vehicle.
Can I have an open container on a boat in SC?
There are not any SC laws that make having an open container on a boat illegal. You should be careful, however, if you are driving the boat. You can still be charged with a BUI if you are operating the boat while under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
Can I have an open container in a limo, taxi, or uber/lyft in SC?
Short Answer – It’s complicated because of conflicts under state law. Law enforcement could potentially charge a passenger in a vehicle for hire with open container in a motor vehicle pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 61-6-4020. However, S.C. Code Ann. § 61-6-4030 carves out an exception for transportation of alcohol in a vehicle for hire by passengers of that vehicle when the alcohol is in the “baggage of the passenger or upon his or her person.”
As a practical matter, a person trying to carry an open container in a vehicle for hire against the wishes or direction of the driver is likely to be cited by law enforcement if notified.
Do I need an attorney for an open container charge in SC?
Yes, by working with an attorney, you can increase your likelihood of having the charges dismissed.
Any alcohol related charge can have a serious impact on your life and career. If you have found yourself facing an open container charge, do not face it alone. Consider retaining a lawyer to protect your rights and advocate to have your charges dismissed or reduced if possible.
Let us help you.
If you are facing charges related to alcohol violations in SC and need help, give us a call! We can discuss your options together. If your license has been suspended we can talk about the benefits of requesting an Administrative Hearing.
Kulp & Elliott is here for you. Give us a call 843-853-3310 at or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation.