What are South Carolina’s open container laws?
The open container laws at the state level prohibit driving with an open container in your vehicle, while local open container laws across the state prohibit having an open container in public whether or not you are in a vehicle.
In this article, we will discuss South Carolina’s open container laws, including:
- State laws that apply to open containers in a vehicle,
- Municipal codes that apply to open containers in public,
- The potential penalties for an open container violation, and
- Pretrial diversion programs that might be available for open container violations.
South Carolina Open Container Laws
On the state level, South Carolina has two open container laws – one that applies to beer or wine and another that applies to liquor containers.
Beer, Wine & Liquor Laws
Beer or Wine
South Carolina Code § 61-4-110 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $100 (plus court costs and assessments) to have an open container of beer or wine “in a motor vehicle of any kind while located upon the public highways or highway rights of way of this State.”
What is allowed?
You can carry beer or wine anywhere in your vehicle, but it must have a cap on it. Whether it is in the trunk of your car or the center console drink holder, it is legal only if it is closed. A pop-top beer can, for example, is an open container once the top is popped. A screw-cap wine bottle, on the other hand, is not an open container if the cap is replaced before transporting the bottle.
What about tailgating?
The open container law explicitly excludes “vehicles parked in legal parking places during functions such as sporting events where law enforcement officers are on duty to perform traffic control duties,” which means it is not an open container violation to have an open beer on your tailgate at the football game, as long as there are no other laws or rules that are violated.
How is “beer or wine” defined?
“[A]ny beer or wine containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume” is covered by the open container law.
Open containers of liquor are covered by a separate South Carolina law, South Carolina Code § 61-6-4020, which makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of up to $100 (plus court costs and assessments) to transport an open container of liquor in a motor vehicle.
What is allowed?
Under § 61-6-4020, once the cap or seal has been broken, liquor can only be transported “in a trunk, luggage compartment, or cargo area that is separate and distinct from the driver’s and passengers’ compartments.”
If the liquor bottle is sealed (and you are 21 years of age or older), you can carry the liquor bottle anywhere in your vehicle. Once the seal has been broken, however, you can only transport the bottle in the trunk or other cargo area (unlike beer or wine, you cannot simply replace the cap).
There is no exception for tailgating.
How is “liquor” defined?
Liquor is defined as “all distilled spirits regardless of the percentage of alcohol by volume that they contain.”
Other Open Container Laws in South Carolina
The use, possession, sale, and transport of alcohol are heavily regulated in South Carolina as it is in most states, and there are many alcohol laws at both the state and the local/municipal level, including municipal open container laws.
Municipal Open Container Laws in South Carolina
In addition to state-level open container laws, South Carolina’s cities and counties often have local open container ordinances that make it a crime to possess an open container of alcohol in any public place.
For example, Charleston’s municipal code § 3-31 makes it a crime to “transport or possess” “any beer, wine, or alcoholic beverage” in an open container. Unlike state law, Charleston’s code makes it a crime to transport an open container in a vehicle or on your person while walking down the street.
Charleston’s code also makes it a crime to “consume any beer, wine, or alcoholic beverage in or upon the streets, sidewalks, alleys, or public ways of the city,” regardless of whether you are in a motor vehicle.
Does every town and city in South Carolina have an open container law?
Not every municipality has an open container law, but many do, and you should double-check before popping the top on a beer on a sidewalk or street corner in any town where you aren’t sure.
Pretrial Diversion Programs
There may be multiple pretrial diversion programs available for an open container violation, depending on the jurisdiction, your prior record, and the mitigation you present to the officer or prosecutor.
For example, the solicitor’s office’s Alcohol Education Program (AEP) might be an option if it is your first time, or you may be eligible for the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) if you have already used AEP and if the solicitor agrees to allow you into the program.
FAQ About South Carolina’s Open Container Laws
Are flasks open containers?
If it contains liquor, it is an open container because the seal of the original container has been broken. If it contains beer or wine, it is not an open container if it has a cap on it.
Can you have an open container in the trunk of your car?
If the seal has been broken on a liquor container, it can only be transported in the trunk or other cargo area.
Can I have an open container on a boat in South Carolina?
No open container law applies to boats or other watercraft in South Carolina, but be aware that an open container may attract the attention of SCDNR agents and you can still be charged with boating under the influence (BUI) or public disorderly conduct if you are intoxicated.
Can I have an open container in a limo in South Carolina?
A limousine is a motor vehicle, and there is no exception in the open container laws for limos; therefore, you must follow the same rules that would apply to a car or other motor vehicle.
Do I need an attorney for an open container charge in South Carolina?
But, if you want to avoid a conviction through negotiations, an acquittal, a dismissal, or pretrial diversion, you should retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to investigate your case, get your case dismissed, or try your case to a jury.
Questions About Open Container Laws in South Carolina?
If you have been charged with an open container violation in South Carolina, the criminal defense lawyers at Seaton Law Office will investigate the allegations, answer your questions, and do everything legally and ethically possible to get your case dismissed, get you into a pretrial diversion program, win your case at trial, or find a resolution that is fair and reasonable.
Call 843-761-3840 or use this form to contact us today to discuss your case and start working towards the best possible outcome for you.
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