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What to Do if You are Caught with an Open Container in Chicago

With spring break coming up, many people will be relaxing and nursing a beer by the pool, the lake, or the grill. When moving from spot to spot, however, leave that half-empty beer behind.

Under Illinois’ open container law, it’s illegal to drive with an open container of alcohol in the car. Even if it’s a passenger in the backseat sipping a Corona or carrying a re-corked bottle of wine, the driver can be charged.

If you find yourself being pulled over with an open container in the car, here are some issues you should know about. The following is not legal advice, just some things to consider.

  • Consequences of the Breathalyzer Test: Under Illinois law, anyone operating a motor vehicle in the state has given “implied consent” to a Breathalyzer, blood, or urine test if suspected of DUI. If you refuse to submit to such tests, your license will automatically be suspended for at least a year. The suspension for refusal is actually harsher than the period proscribed for a DUI conviction. However, a DUI conviction carries its own set of repercussions that could affect your ability to get or keep a job in your chosen field.
  • Plead Guilty or Have Your Day in Court: Once ticketed, you can either plead guilty to the offense and pay the fine, or you can fight the charges in court. If you clearly had an open container in the car, pleading guilty and paying the fine will save you a lot of time and effort. However, if the alcoholic beverage was still sealed and the officer was mistaken, if you were using an old Bud Light can as a dip cup, or if some other strange circumstances existed that explain the open container, you may want to contest the charges in court. If you were cited for the offense in Chicago or anywhere in Cook County, you can visit the court clerk’s website to download the appropriate forms.
  • Pay the Fine: Whether you plead guilty to, or are found guilty of, the offense, you will be fined $750 in accordance with the statute. This fine is payable to the circuit court clerk of the jurisdiction in which you were cited. If you were cited while driving in Cook County, you can pay the fine with a debit or credit card online at the clerk of the circuit court’s website.
  • Don’t Do it Again: Consider yourself lucky for getting away with an alcohol-related driving offense with only a fine. If you’re found guilty of violating the open container law twice in the same year, your license will be suspended.

Remember: a road beer isn’t worth $750. If you have any questions about your specific open container case or Illinois’ DUI law in general, you may want to contact an attorney.

The post is part of FindLaw’s Legal U series. We are working to help you learn what to do in your city to cope with some of the legal problems, questions, or issues that come up in daily life.

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