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CA Vehicle Code 23222(a): Possessing An Open Container While Driving


In California, Vehicle Code 23222 also written as 23222 CVC is a law that prohibits a driver from having an open container of alcohol or marijuana while driving a motor vehicle. However, it allows the transportation of a closed container or one that is still sealed. It’s relevant to note that law enforcement officers may use VC 23222 or CVC 23222 as shorthand when referring to this section of the California Vehicle Code.

The language of the code section reads:

(a) No person shall have in his or her possession on his or her person, while driving a motor vehicle upon a highway or on lands, as described in subdivision (b) of Section 23220, any bottle, can, or other receptacle, containing any alcoholic beverage which has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed.
(b) Except as authorized by law, every person who possesses, while driving a motor vehicle upon a highway or on lands, as described in subdivision (b) of Section 23220, not more than one avoirdupois ounce of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis as defined by Section 11006.5 of the Health and Safety Code, is guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars ($100).


What is Prohibited by VC 23222?

There are two laws related to alcohol and marijuana possession while driving in California.

  • VC 23222(a) is a California law that prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle on a highway while in possession of alcohol that is in an open bottle, can, or other container.
  • VC 23222(b) is a California law that states it is illegal for a person to drive a motor vehicle on a highway while in possession of marijuana that is either in an open container or not contained at all.

Under both statutes, a “highway” includes public roads and streets but does not include private roads. It’s important to note that a person who is legally authorized to possess marijuana, such as a qualified patient with a valid prescription, is not considered guilty of the offense of possessing marijuana while driving. In this blog post, we will discuss California Vehicle Code Section 23222(a) VC, which specifically addresses the prohibition of possessing an open container of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle.


In order to be in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23222(a) VC, a person must meet the following criteria:

  • The person was operating a motor vehicle on a public road or street, not limited to freeways.
  • While driving, the person had in their possession or on their person an opened or partially consumed alcoholic beverage, or a container with a broken seal.

It’s important to note that this open container law in California does not apply to passengers or drivers in certain vehicles, such as buses, taxis, limousines, or campers, unless there are passengers under the age of 21 present.

Furthermore, an open container of alcohol may be stored in the trunk of a vehicle. If the car does not have a trunk, the open container is allowed in an area typically unused by passengers (such as the bed of a pickup truck), or in a locked container.


Example 1: A driver is pulled over for speeding and the officer notices a half-empty beer can in the cup holder. The officer administers a field sobriety test, which confirms that the driver is not under the influence of alcohol. However, the driver could still be cited for possessing an open container while driving, as the beer can was accessible within the vehicle.

Example 2: A motorist is stopped at a DUI checkpoint and the officer notices a wine bottle on the passenger seat. The driver passes a breathalyzer test, indicating he is not intoxicated. Despite the driver’s sobriety, he can still be cited for possessing an open container while driving since the wine bottle was within reach and not securely stored.

Example 3: During a routine traffic stop, an officer spots an open bottle of tequila rolling around on the backseat floor. The driver, who passes a breathalyzer test, claims it belongs to a passenger who is no longer in the vehicle. Nevertheless, the driver can still be cited for possessing an open container while driving, as the bottle was accessible within the vehicle.

Penalties – California Vehicle Code 23222(a)

If individuals who are 21 years old or older are caught with an open container while driving, it is considered an infraction and they may face a $250 fine, along with court fees and penalty assessments. The total amount may potentially exceed $1,000.


On the other hand, drivers who are under the age of 21 can be charged with the misdemeanor offense of possessing alcohol in a vehicle while being under 21, which goes against California Vehicle Code Section 23224 VC. If found guilty, the defendant could face a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a court fine of $1,000.


If an individual is caught with an open container according to the state laws under which they were apprehended, there may be limited defenses available. In such cases, it is advisable to promptly seek legal representation from a competent attorney. A skilled attorney will be able to evaluate whether proper procedures were followed during the arrest and can explore potential defenses based on the specific points of law relevant to the case.

In addition, if the accused was riding in a vehicle that is exempt from California Vehicle Code Section 23222(a) VC, such as a bus, taxi, limousine, or camper, they would not be subject to this offense. Furthermore, if the alcohol was securely stored in the trunk or a similar compartment, the accused would not be found guilty of this violation.

Immigration consequences

The immigration consequences of a conviction under California Vehicle Code 23222(a) (Possessing an Open Container While Driving) can vary depending on various factors, such as the individual’s immigration status, the severity of the offense, and the overall immigration history.

In general, a conviction for possessing an open container while driving is considered a minor offense and may not typically lead to severe immigration consequences. However, it is always important to consult with an immigration attorney to fully understand the potential impact on immigration status or future immigration applications. They can provide personalized advice based on the specific circumstances of the case. If you do not have or know of an immigration lawyer, the Tabibnia Law Firm can refer you to one.


Related Crimes

  • Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and/or Drugs – California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) VC
  • Driving with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08 Percent or Higher – California Vehicle Code Section 23152(b) VC
  • Drinking in a Motor Vehicle – California Vehicle Code Section 23221 VC
  • Possession of Alcohol in a Vehicle by a Person Under 21 – California Vehicle Code Section 23224 VC
  • Possessing Marijuana While Driving – California Vehicle Code Section 23222(b) VC

Speak With Criminal Defense Lawyer From Tabibnia Law Firm

If you have received a citation for possessing an open container while driving, it is advisable to seek legal representation from an experienced Los Angeles DUI attorney promptly. Cyrus Tabibnia from the Tabibnia Law Firm is a criminal defense attorney with over 18 years of experience in defending clients charged with alcohol-related driving offenses. He has a strong track record of effectively representing clients facing charges similar to this offense.

For further guidance or to discuss your case with a skilled criminal defense or DUI lawyer, we recommend reaching out to the Tabibnia Law Firm. He offers free consultations and reliable legal advice. You can contact him at 866-713-2159.

Legal References:

California Code, Vehicle Code – VEH § 23222 | FindLaw | California Vehicle Code Section 23222

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia, also known as Shahrooz Tabibnia, is a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, California. With a law degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, he has been practicing law since 2005 and holds license #237348. With over 18 years of experience, Cyrus specializes in various misdemeanor and felony criminal Law including Domestic Violence, Theft Crime, Sex crime, DUI & DWI, Personal Injury, Employment Law, and Cannabis & Marijuana Drugs Law. Being bilingual in English, Persian, and Spanish enables him to effectively communicate with a diverse range of clients. From 2014 to 2018, he served as a board member of the Iranian American Bar Association. An expungement attorney in Los Angeles who can assist you in clearing your criminal record in the state of California.

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