Saint Paul Attorney

Minnesota’s Open Bottle Law

Ever since the repeal of prohibition between 1933 with the passage of the 21st amendment to the constitution, to 1966 when the last Temperance Laws were repealed in Mississippi, the United States has had an uneasy relationship with alcohol.  According to The Huffington Post, the enduring existence of open container laws represents a continuing form of prohibition.

Open Bottle Law in General

Open container laws apply only to government facilities, not to private property that is open to the public, like restaurants, stadiums or theaters. However, open container laws do apply to government-administered facilities like parks, picnic grounds, campgrounds, even sidewalks, as well as motor vehicles. Many thousands of people are ticketed or even arrested for violating open container laws.

Minnesota is one of thirty-nine states that have enacted complete “open container” or “open bottle” laws following TEA 21 Federal Standards (The U.S. federal transportation equity act for the 21st century–a 1998-2003 highway safety act). The Minnesota act specifies that no open containers of alcoholic beverages are allowed in passenger areas of any automobile or truck, including unlocked glove compartments or any other area of the vehicle that is accessible to the driver or passengers.

Enforcement

Enforcement of these laws is very uneven. It is based on a patchwork of law-making from state to state. Fines and penalties vary widely from $25 fines in some states to $1,000 in others. In Mississippi, it is legal to drink while driving, but not to have a blood level over .08. It is not legal to drink at all in a public space. In areas where there are no open container laws, like Butte, Montana, Savannah, Georgia, New Orleans, or Las Vegas, residents and tourists are free to drink in parks, beaches, or city streets. But if someone living in these areas where to drink in other areas of the country, they would be fined or arrested.

The container can be any receptacle that can hold a beverage including beer cans, wine bottles, flasks, water bottles, or the like. Police officers have the discretion to evaluate the situation and decide whether a given container contains an alcoholic beverage. They can issue a citation for an open bottle violation based on their suspicion. Anyone cited will then have to contest the citation in court. Police do not determine which person actually possesses the alcoholic beverages in deciding who gets ticketed. According to Minnesota law, even if a passenger in your vehicle has an open container of alcohol, it is a violation of the law. Even if the driver is not drinking, everyone in the car is liable.

The enforcement of open container laws by police has also been very uneven, tending to focus on minorities and low-income people. Research on police action shows that arrest rates for open container violations are many times higher among minorities. One study in Brooklyn, N.Y.  found that 85 percent of the open container law summonses were issued to black and latino residents.

Minnesota

Minnesota’s liquor laws are strict, but they are not as strict as  those of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. In Minnesota, people can be cited if they bring an alcoholic beverage onto the sidewalk from the restaurant or bar where they purchased it unless the container (like the wine bottle) is sealed. Drivers and passengers can be sited if they have alcohol containers in their possession, even if they are not driving. All previously opened bottles have to be sealed and put in a secure location away from the passenger compartment of the vehicle. Alcohol is not allowed in any public parks in the state, although enforcement depends on circumstances. Anyone who receives a citation for violation of Open Container Laws can be convicted of a felony. This conviction can have serious ramifications.