No one wants to be charged with a DUI/DWI. Shocking, I know. There’s an issue, though, with people still not entirely understanding how to avoid it. It’s very easy to just…not drive under the influence, and while that’s a major help (obviously) it doesn’t cover all your bases. Maryland has some pretty strict regulations and penalties for anything alcohol-and-car related, and you should really understand all of them to avoid a sticky situation in the future.
This is a great place to start. What if you’re just a passenger? Surely you’re home free, right?
Along for the ride — to the station
First, let’s clarify some language here. As a passenger, you are likely not going to be charged for a DUI/DWI unless the officer can’t be certain that you WEREN’T driving — that is, you didn’t pull a switch-a-roo with your buddy as soon as you saw flashing lights. That being said, you’re not entirely safe from being penalized for other charges.
Maryland has something called “open container laws,” which are the laws you really need to worry about as an inebriated passenger. See, here’s the line. You’re allowed to be drunk in the passenger seat — but you can’t be drinking. An open container of an alcoholic beverage cannot exist in the passenger areas of a car, such as the front or back seats. As a rule of thumb, if it’s within reaching distance of the driver — or you — it’s illegal. Not only that, but unlike other states, the onus would fall squarely on you, the passenger, and not the driver.
Now, that being said, the law isn’t very clear-cut. For once, this can work in your favor. It’s difficult to charge you, rather than be charged, because in Maryland, open-container laws only apply if you’re on the highway. It doesn’t matter if you’re stopped or moving, but depending on where you got pulled over, that little tidbit could be your hypothetical escape-card.
There are also other exceptions to the law to keep in mind:
- The drink is locked away either in the glove compartment or trunk. Therefore, it’s no longer “open” or readily accessible to parties inside the vehicle.
- If you’re paying for your ride, you’re good. As long as the vehicle is meant to transport passengers for compensation, like a limo, cab, or Uber, you’re allowed to drink along the way. (Your Uber driver may disagree – proceed at own risk.)
- In cases of a mobile home, passengers are legally allowed to drink in the living area of it.
Penalties big and small
Listen, I’m not gonna lie. The penalties for the open-container laws in Maryland are pretty small. This is not me encouraging you to do it ANYWAY, but if you were, you probably won’t be too upset over the consequences. The maximum fine is $25, plus around $5 in court costs, and you won’t get any points on your license for the civil offense.
That’s the small penalty. Size doesn’t matter, though, and it won’t save you from more extreme offenses depending on your situation. Yes, the open-container charges are relatively minor, but if a cop pulls you and your buddy over and there are open bottles — and you’re openly drunk — he can easily form the suspicion that maybe you WERE driving, and BOTH of you are drunk. Now you’re back to dealing with DUIs/DWIs.
Those fines can be in the thousands, and are accompanied by license points and probably suspension as well, if not actual solid jail time. So it’s important to remember you can be charged and penalized for more than one crime at a time, and boy can they add up. It’s best to err on the side of caution and just, well, don’t do it. Just don’t do it.
If you did it, well, that happens. But now it’s time to talk next steps. You need an attorney, and your buddy the driver probably does too. The right attorney can poke holes in the prosecution to talk down your fines and penalties, if not get rid of them entirely, so it’s quite the important choice to make if you find yourself in a situation like this. Even if you’re not quite certain of the charges being brought against you, your attorney can both clarify and help with them.
Our team at Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, is comprised of experienced and understanding Annapolis DUI/DWI attorneys who have been fighting for people like you for over 18 years. With offices in both Annapolis and Ellicott City, we can be right where you need us, when you need us. For more information, call us today at 410-271-1892 or fill out our contact form.
And remember — Keep Calm and Call Drew!