DC Open Container Laws: A Comprehensive Guide


Discover the intricacies of DC Open Container Laws with Scrofano Law PC. Understand the legal implications, compliance, and how our team can guide you through the complexities of these regulations in Washington, D.C.

What Is the Washington, D.C. Open Container Law?

Many residents and visitors to Washington, D.C., may be surprised to learn that enjoying an alcoholic beverage in public spaces like parks, sidewalks, allies, or parking areas is prohibited under the District of Columbia’s open container laws. Washington, D.C.’s regulations are among the more restrictive regarding consuming alcoholic beverages outside licensed establishments.

The idea behind the open container law is to cut down on public intoxication and lower alcohol-related crime, specifically to discourage people from getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking. Not adhering to these laws can result in being convicted of a misdemeanor. Although it is a minor misdemeanor, it is still a criminal offense. 

This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the laws and regulations surrounding open containers in Washington, D.C. If you have any questions or have been charged for violating open container laws, a top DC criminal attorney from Scrofano Law, PC, may be able to help you. Knowledgeable in many criminal areas, we provide our clients with quality legal representation tailored to their needs and the unique facts of each case.

Washington, D.C. Open Container Laws 

The laws for open containers in Washington, D.C. vary depending on the type of area in which you are drinking. Moreover, it’s important to know what is considered an alcoholic beverage. 

Alcoholic beverage is defined by the D.C. Code § 25–101(5) as a liquid or solid containing more than one-half of 1% of alcohol content by volume for human consumption.

A public sidewalk or street without a permit is a public place and not an area where you can legally consume or possess an open alcoholic beverage container. An exception would be on a bar or restaurant sidewalk with a liquor permit.

Moreover, if you are in a permitted area, such as a street festival or block party, you are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages openly. 

So, if you are hosting a gathering in your backyard or on your apartment balcony or front porch, you may wonder if you can drink an open container of alcohol there. Fortunately, you are legally allowed to drink in a private residence as long as you are over the age of 21. Also, the property has to be an integral part of that private property. However, avoid bringing the open container onto the street or sidewalk.

It is important to keep in mind that even though you are legally allowed to drink in certain areas, being drunk in a public place is still illegal and can lead to a fine or even arrest. 

Prohibited Areas and Events

Under DC Code § 25–1001, it is illegal to consume an alcoholic beverage or even possess an open container of alcoholic drink in or upon you in the following places:

  • Public areas (street, park, parking area, and alley)

  • Inside a vehicle parked in any of the places mentioned above 

  • Places where the public is invited but a license to sell alcohol hasn’t been issued 

  • Premises not licensed to sell alcohol. 

Container Specifications

According to the Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration – ABCA, establishments that are licensed to serve alcohol are allowed to sell alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption in their original sealed container or closed containers.

However, it may be a good idea for licensees to consider using alcoholic beverage packaging that discourages public consumption. If the container’s top, cork, seal, or cap is removed, these containers are considered open. Placing a straw in a lidded container or a lime wedge in an open bottle of alcohol also doesn’t constitute a closed container.

Closed containers are jugs, bottles, cans, kegs, and other alcohol containers that have been closed with appropriate seals. 

Legal Consequences of Violating Open Container Laws

If you are convicted of drinking or being intoxicated in prohibited areas, the maximum penalty is 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

It’s important to point out that open containers of alcohol aren’t permitted in a motor vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle is parked or in motion. Both drivers and passengers can be convicted for this type of violation. Moreover, the fines can be higher if the driver is under the influence of alcohol. In that case, a skilled criminal traffic lawyer may be able to help. 

Arrested for Possession of an Open Container of Alcoholic Beverage? Call Scrofano Law, PC!

People sometimes want to loosen up and enjoy an alcoholic beverage outside. But it’s important to do so legally and responsibly.

Although Washington, D.C., has strict regulations regarding consuming alcohol in public, people may not end up in jail for opening a container of alcohol in a prohibited area. However, the more significant concern is ensuring you don’t get a criminal record. Every arrest, charge, and conviction is a public record that can harm the rest of your life.

Because of that, if you are arrested for possession of an open container of alcohol, you may want to consider contacting an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Do not let one simple mistake haunt you for years, making it challenging to rent an apartment, find a good job, or continue your education.

At Scrofano Law, PC, we focus on D.C. criminal defense cases. That means we have sufficient experience representing clients in different criminal cases throughout the D.C. area, and we are ready to put that knowledge to work for you.

If you have more questions, please contact Scrofano Law, PC. We can help you through the process!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Delivery Workers Required to Confirm the Age of Customers Placing Beer, Wine, and Spirit Orders?

Yes. In Washington, D.C., you must be at least 21 years old to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages. Every staff member, including delivery drivers, responsible to sell alcoholic beverages must use sufficient efforts to confirm the identification and age of anyone attempting to buy wine, beer, or spirits from them. Alcohol may not be served if a customer cannot show a government-issued picture ID proving they are at least 21 years old.


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