You're out driving around with your friends and all of a sudden, flashing lights in your rearview. The cop comes up and catches a glimpse of the open bottle of Goose you were bringing to the party. Luckily you hadn't been pre-gaming, but the cop still is giving you a hard time.
Or you're out with friends, walking around the city, with your road soda, and the cops come sniff your cup. Again, no driving, no slurring, no ruckus, but the law is coming down on you.
These situations are all because of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia's open container laws.
Open container laws are an attempt to lower the amount of public drunkenness, and a way to bump up penalties for DUI and public drunkenness. However, on their own, they are known as "summary offenses," similar to a traffic ticket. One is a Pennsylvania vehicle code violation and the other is a Philadelphia city code violation.
Summary offenses require a response to the citation within 10 days of receiving it. There are two ways of responding to a citation: guilty or not.
If you plead guilty, you pay the money and go on your way.
If you plead not guilty, you are also requesting a hearing, which requires the payment of collateral. Once you've paid your collateral, the court will give you a date and time for trial, and let you know what will happen if you fail to appear to your hearing.
This process is simple for the vehicle code violation, because like any other traffic ticket, there is a simple way to pay or challenge your open container ticket. You can use the Philadelphia traffic court website to plead guilty and pay your fine, or to plead not guilty and request a hearing.
There is not an easy method to respond to the open container citation by the city, instead you will have to use the actual mail, or show up to court to either pay your fine or request a hearing.
So hold on to your money, keep your containers closed until you're at your destination. The open container laws can lead to fines and other charges and are better avoided.
This post is part of FindLaw's Legal U series. We are working to help you learn what to do in your city to cope with some of the legal problems, questions, or issues that come up in daily life. Please come back to learn more from future posts in this series.