Possession of alcohol on a beach or elsewhere may be prohibited by law. Depending on where you are, the law may actually be referred to as an “open container” violation. If you have been charged with public intoxication, public possession of alcohol, or other alcohol-related offenses in California, our Ventura DUI defense lawyers may be able to assist you.
Possible Legal Defenses Against Open Container Violations in California
The first thing to consider in analyzing whether there is a defense to possessing alcohol or having an open container on a beach is to determine whether there is a violation of law or not. Violations will occur from local laws, which regulate behavior on that beach you are tanning on. While it is illegal to possess alcohol on a beach in Ventura, it may be quite appropriate to imbibe an adult beverage while on a beach in Florida or Texas.
If you have been cited for a violation of laws related to possession of alcohol on a beach, the first analysis is whether the citation you received is valid for the area where you were. For example, if you are on a state beach and are cited for a violation of a local regulation, that local law may not be enforceable, or there may not be corresponding regulation. There may be a valid defense if you are not in public, but on a private beach or on a state beach that allows alcohol.
The existence of a special reason for the presence of alcohol may also be a factor. For instance, is this an event where the possession laws have been condoned by the issuance of a permit? As a local example, it is illegal to possess alcohol in a Ventura public park, but there were hundreds of people possessing and consuming alcohol in the park across from our offices recently and police just stood by and did nothing. Why? Because there was a special beer festival taking place for which the promoters obtained prior approval by way of permit.
The defenses that you have will depend upon the circumstances in which you have been cited. One of the first questions that should be asked is whether the possessed alcohol violates the open container laws and whether it is a crime to possess unopened alcohol, as mere possession may not violate law unless the beverage container is open.
If you are in a group of people when cited, it may be difficult for law enforcement to determine who the alcohol actually belongs to and if so, it certainly wouldn’t be in your best interests to own up to the fact that it is yours.
Here is another important question to consider: how was it that the police authority that issued your citation came to find out that you possessed the alcohol? This might be a good defense depending on what you were drinking from. If you are in possession of alcohol that is in a thermos, or an unmarked glass, cup, or ambiguous container, how did the officer come to know that it contained alcohol? Issues of cause to search and how that search was conducted are certainly factors that a Ventura defense attorney would be looking at in defeating such a citation.
Finally, we bring your attention to the fact that the word “open” doesn’t literally mean that there is no top on the beverage, but rather that the beverage has been opened, the seal has been broken, and/or the beverage has been consumed to some extent. In other words, if you are drinking a bottle of beer with a twist top on it when you see the police approaching, simply screwing that cap back on will not be a defense.
When Can You Be Charged with Public Intoxication in California?
It’s important to note that possession of alcohol laws are different from being drunk in public place. You don’t have to be under the influence of alcohol to be charged with possession of alcohol. Do note, though, that possession of alcohol can be an associated charge if you are also charged with being intoxicated in public.
Cal. Penal Code § 647(f) is known as California’s “drunk in public” (or “public intoxication”) law. Despite what the common name of this law suggests, simply being drunk in a public place is not a crime. Instead, to violate California’s “drunk in public” statute, you need to be so intoxicated that you are unable to exercise care for your safety or the safety of others, or interfere with, obstruct, or prevent others from using streets, sidewalks, or other “public ways.”
Contact Our Ventura Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Consultation
If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having received a citation for possessing alcohol on a beach in California, the bottom line is to determine where you are, how the police determined what you had, and what laws apply. It is in your best interests to have assistance from a Ventura criminal defense attorney who has experience handling these types of cases. To set up a free and confidential legal consultation with a Ventura public intoxication lawyer, call The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC at (805) 643-5555 today.