California Vehicle Code Section 23221 VC: Drinking In A Motor Vehicle

1. Definition and Elements of the CrimeDUI defense

Most drivers understand that it is against the law to drive while under the influence of alcohol pursuant to California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) VC and California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) VC. In a similar fashion, drinking in a motor vehicle is illegal under California Vehicle Code Section 23221 VC.

Drinking in a motor vehicle under California Vehicle Code Section 23221 VC occurs when:

  1. Any driver drinks an alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle upon a highway
  2. OR when any passenger drinks an alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle upon a highway.

The term highway as used in the statute refers to any public road or street, and not only the freeway. California Vehicle Code Section 23221 VC would not apply to defendants drinking on a private road or private driveway.

2. Related Offenses

Similar offenses include the following:

  1. Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and/or Drugs - California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) VC
  2. Driving with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08 Percent or Higher - California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) VC
  3. Possessing an Open Container While Driving – California Vehicle Code Section 23222 VC
  4. Possession of Alcohol in a Vehicle by Persons Under 21 – California Vehicle Code Section 23224 VC
3. Examples

A man is driving home from the airport after a business trip when he realizes that he has a miniature liquor bottle from his hotel still in his coat pocket. The man is totally sober and feels there would be no harm in quickly drinking the contents of the bottle. He opens and drinks the bottle in the presence of a police officer. The officer pulls the man over and the man admits to drinking the small amount of alcohol. While this man would not be guilty of DUI, he could be cited for drinking in a motor vehicle in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23221 VC.

In another example, a group of friends are excited to begin a night out on the town. The friends in the car start drinking while on the way to a nightclub. The driver is the designated driver for the night and does not drink anything. While the passengers could be cited for drinking in a motor vehicle, the driver did not commit this offense.

4. Defenses to Drinking in a Motor Vehicle

If the drinking occurs while the automobile is on a private road or in a private driveway, California Vehicle Code Section 23221 would not apply, as it only affects drivers or passengers on public highways. In addition, the passengers of certain carriers, like limousines or party buses are exempt from the prohibitions of California Vehicle Code Section 23221 VC and would be allowed to drink alcohol while riding in a motor vehicle.

5. Penalties

For drivers and passengers who are 21 and over, drinking in a motor vehicle is an infraction that is punishable by $250 in court fines and any additional penalty assessments that may be assessed. The final amount may ultimately exceed $1,000.

Drivers who are under 21 can be charged with possession of alcohol in a vehicle while under 21 in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23224, which is a misdemeanor. Any person convicted of this offense would be subject to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 court fine. In addition, underage drivers caught drinking while driving would almost certainly be subject to the provisions of California Vehicle Code Section 23136 VC which imposes a yearlong driver’s license suspension on drivers under 21 caught with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. If the underage driver’s BAC was between 0.05 and 0.07 percent, he or she could face an additional citation under California Vehicle Code Section 23140 VC, which makes it illegal for underage drivers to drive with these BAC levels.

6. Criminal Defense for Drinking in a Motor Vehicle

If you have been cited for drinking in a motor vehicle, it is important that you consult with a Los Angeles DUI Lawyer right away. Los Angeles DUI Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who represents clients charged with all drinking and driving related offenses. Mr. Kraut is highly respected throughout the court system and works hard to ensure the best outcome possible for his clients.

For more information about drinking in a motor vehicle, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles DUI Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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