People often use water bottles and other beverage containers like thermoses to carry alcohol and other substances in places where they are forbidden. Whether it’s an Evian bottle filled with vodka or an insulated Ravens bottle filled with a cannabis-infused beverage, it may seem easy to fool those in charge of enforcing regulations.
However, what if you are stopped by the police for suspicion of DUI? Do they have a right to search an unmarked beverage container?
Here in Maryland, having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle is no longer a criminal offense. It’s a civil violation. Of course, driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime, as is underage drinking.
Police have the right to open and search your container without first getting a warrant if they have a reasonable suspicion that you’ve broken the law — for example, if you appear to be publicly intoxicated. If they decide to arrest you – again, say for public intoxication — they have a right to search your belongings.
If you are in your car, and neither of the above scenarios applies, police need your consent to open your bottle. However, if you’ve taken a Breathalyzer and tested over the legal blood alcohol content, they can open it whether you give your permission or not.
Note that by bringing an open container into a public event like a concert or football game or even to the beach, you may be considered to have forfeited your right to refuse such a search.
If an officer tells you to open a container and you know there’s no alcohol or illegal substance in it, it’s likely best to consent. If an officer searches a container without your consent, your attorney may be able to get the evidence tossed out if there was no justifiable reason for the search.
Of course, the best way to avoid these problems is not to carry alcohol or other forbidden substances where they shouldn’t be or if you’re underage. People often think that they’re clever by putting whiskey in their Starbucks cup. However, police have seen it all. You aren’t likely to fool them.
If you find yourself facing charges, your attorney will look at the evidence and how it was obtained to help ensure that you aren’t the victim of an illegal search.
Source: FindLaw, “Can Police Search My Water Bottle?,” Christopher Coble, Esq., accessed Nov. 29, 2017