With some counties in Kansas still prohibiting the sale of alcohol, it should be no surprise that the drinking & driving laws are also very strict here. Harsh penalties accompany any alcohol or drug-related driving offense—including the transportation of alcohol.

In Kansas, an open container offense is no mere traffic infraction, like in some states. It is a criminal offense, and even first-time offenders can face severe penalties if an open container of alcohol is found within the driver’s reach in a vehicle. Many young defendants face a lifelong criminal record for one mistake or an error of judgment.

If you are in this difficult situation over a seemingly minor offense, it is essential to seek legal help to protect your rights and to reduce the negative impact on the future.

What is an “open container” in Kansas?

Often, an open container charge accompanies a DUI charge in Kansas. This is because containers of alcohol are normally discovered by police officers during routine checks at DUI checkpoints or after evidence of impaired driving results in a vehicle stop.

It surprises some people to know that open container charges can be laid against a driver who has not drunk a drop of alcohol—or whose passenger(s) have not consumed alcohol.

An open container charge is a separate and unique offense from DUI under the Kansas Statutes. The law covers any alcoholic beverage that is not in its original unopened container or has a broken seal.

If the alcohol is transported in its original, store-bought condition, it is likely legal to carry it but it must be in its original packaging with the factory seal intact.

Otherwise, the only legal way to drive with alcohol in the vehicle is to store it in a locked trunk, behind the furthest seat from the front seat or in a locked compartment outside the passenger cabin.

Drivers should take heed. Under this definition, placing an unopened six-pack of beer on the back seat of your car is a violation of the open container law in Kansas.

What are the penalties for an open container violation in Kansas?

Under Kan. Stat. Ann. § 8-1599, an open container offense is classed as a misdemeanor. The potential penalties include fines and jail time.

More specifically, a conviction can result in:

  • Up to $200 in fines
  • Up to six months in jail

The precise penalties faced will depend on the circumstances of the case, most notably whether the offender has a prior conviction for an alcohol-related driving offense.

Offenders under the age of 21 must also complete an alcohol and drug evaluation and follow any recommended treatment.

Open container violations and license suspensions in Kansas

An individual who receives a second open container conviction within five years faces a one-year license suspension. This can be one of the harshest immediate consequences of the offense for drivers who rely on their vehicle for work, school, or leisure.

The court can reduce the suspension to a one-year “restricted” license, which will allow driving under certain circumstances (such as to get to and from work) but this usually comes down to the judge’s discretion. The judge will set the restrictions and terms for how and where the offender can drive.

A seasoned DUI lawyer can usually help to make a convincing argument as to why an offender needs to retain some driving privileges if convicted.

Are there exceptions to the open container law in Kansas?

Not every open container in every type of vehicle leads to a misdemeanor charge in Kansas. There are some notable exemptions.

For instance, Kansas laws permit open containers in:

  • The locked trunk of a vehicle
  • Statutorily authorized recreational vehicles (such as motor homes and campervans)
  • For-hire buses (as long as the alcohol is not accessible to the driver)
  • For-hire limousines (passengers can consume alcohol)
  • Any other authorized vehicle that carries 10 or more passengers

Do the open container laws apply to everyone in the vehicle?

Kansas’s open container law applies to both drivers and vehicle passengers.

Most people assume that if a passenger is drinking a beer, the driver has protection from prosecution. However, law enforcement officers in Kansa can still potentially arrest the driver for violating the open container laws—especially if the bottle or can is within reach of the driver.

How can a lawyer help you with an open container violation in Kansas?

Because of the potential for jail time, fines, license suspension, and a lifelong criminal record, anyone accused of violating the open container laws in Kansas should consider legal representation.

Your lawyer will investigate the incident and can often find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. The location or condition of the alcoholic beverage is often disputed and how law enforcement obtained the evidence can be questioned by a criminal defense lawyer with insight into the relevant laws and experience of such cases.

There may also be mitigating circumstances in cases where the open container violation was a genuine mistake or oversight.

Depending on the circumstances, a plea bargain is often possible in open container cases. This is where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge or to enter into a diversion agreement. Such deals are at the discretion of the prosecutor but are more likely if you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer at your side.

Many defendants in open container cases are facing the criminal justice system for the first time in Kansas. Your lawyer will provide valuable support and guidance at this stressful time and look to prevent the potentially harsh consequences.

If you or a loved one has been charged with an open contain violation in Topeka, speak to a criminal defense lawyer at ITR Law during a free case evaluation. We can advise you of your legal options and advise you how best to proceed.