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What Are The Penalties For Open Intoxicants In A Motor Vehicle In Michigan?

What are the penalties for open intoxicants in a motor vehicle in michigan

It is well known that operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or impaired is a crime in Michigan that can lead to substantial fines, license sanctions or even a jail sentence. What is not as well known is that it is a crime to have any open intoxicants in the passenger cab of a motor vehicle even if the driver or passenger was not drinking. Don’t underestimate the legal consequences that can come an uncapped beer bottle in your car.

A person is guilty of operating a vehicle with open intoxicants, contrary to MCL 257.624a, if the prosecutor can prove ALL of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • First, that the person was an operator or occupant in a vehicle. A “vehicle”, defined by MCL 257.79, is “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices exclusively moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks…”. This broad definition can include scooters, dune buggies and go-karts. However, commercial quadricycles are explicitly excluded under MCL 257.624a(5), provided that the commercial quadricycle is only transporting beer, wine, spirits or a mixed spirits drink.
  • Second, that the person transported or possessed alcoholic liquor in a container that is open or uncapped or upon which the seal is broken within the passenger area of the vehicle.
  • Third, that the alcoholic liquor was in the passenger area of the vehicle. “Passenger area”, pursuant to MCL 257.624a(6)(a), means “the area designed to seat the operator and passengers of a motor vehicle while it is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the operator or a passenger while in his or her seating position, including the glove compartment.” However, pursuant to MCL 257.624a(2), a person may transport uncapped or unsealed alcoholic liquor in the passenger area if the vehicle does not have a trunk or compartment separate from the passenger area, and the container is in a locked glove compartment, behind the last upright seat, or in an area not normally occupied by the operator or a passenger.
  • Fourth, that the vehicle was on a highway or another place open to the public or generally accessible to the motor vehicles (e.g. alleys and parking lots). This definition is VERY BROAD and, recently, the Michigan Supreme Court held that a private driveway was “generally accessible to motor vehicles” for the purpose of sustaining a drunk driving conviction under MCL 257.625(1). See People v Rea, 500 Mich 422; 902 NW2d 362 (2017).

The penalties for operating a vehicle with open intoxicants are as follows:

  • For a first offense, the penalty is a misdemeanor conviction punishable by:
  1. A fine up to $500.00
  2. Jail sentence up to 93 days.
  3. Community service.
  4. Substance abuse screening and assessment at his or her own expense.
  5. 2 points added to your Michigan driving record
  • For a second offense occurring within the last seven years, the penalty is a misdemeanor conviction punishable by:
  1. A fine up to $500.00
  2. Jail sentence up to 93 days.
  3. Community service.
  4. Substance abuse screening and assessment at his or her own expense.
  5. 2 points added to your Michigan driving record
  6. Driver’s License is restricted for 90 days with a hard suspension for the first 30 days.
  • For a third or subsequent offense, the penalty is a misdemeanor conviction punishable by:
  1. A fine up to $500.00
  2. Jail sentence up to 93 days.
  3. Community service.
  4. Substance abuse screening and assessment at his or her own expense.
  5. 2 points added to your Michigan driving record
  6. Driver’s License is restricted for 1 year with a hard suspension for the first 60 days.

Many local cities and municipalities have their own ordinance similar to the state statute for open intoxicants that may be broader in application. Depending on the locality, the ordinance penalty for this offense can be a civil infraction or a misdemeanor.  If you or a loved one are charged with operating a vehicle with open intoxicants, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney in your corner to protect your rights and help you obtain a favorable result. It may be possible to negotiate a reduction of this charge to a civil infraction with no adverse license sanctions. If you are in need of legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the skilled lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC.

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