Ocean City, MD has changed its open container laws one way or another over the years in an effort to balance its desire to remain tourist friendly while also preserving a peaceful, quiet atmosphere. Annapolis has plenty of visitors, too, but the Annapolis open container laws have always aligned more closely with Maryland state law.
With our beautiful harbor, historic sites, and the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis gets a major boost from tourism. Many of these tourists enjoy the town’s nightlife, including the many restaurants and bars located on Main and West Streets, and on City Dock. But while Annapolis is known for its bar scene, drunken or disorderly conduct – particularly late at night – can be a major nuisance for residents of the Historic District. As a result, the City is very proactive in enforcing its open container laws.
Understanding the Law
In Maryland, it is unlawful for a vehicle’s driver or passenger to have an open container of alcohol in the vehicle. Some resort towns may let you carry an alcoholic drink in a plastic cup while walking through town. However even in those cases, you may not possess an open container with an alcoholic beverage in it – or an open empty container that had alcohol in it – while you are in a vehicle. Throughout the State the law is consistent – all previously opened bottles must be stored in the trunk of the vehicle.
This can get especially tricky in Annapolis, where it is lawful to bring an unfinished bottle of wine home from a restaurant (known as a “wine doggy bag”). The key is to stow that unfinished bottle in the trunk so as not to unwittingly violate the open container laws.
Violation of the open container law is a criminal misdemeanor. It is typically punished with a fine. Your vehicle does not have to be in motion for you to be in violation, so even if your car is parked, stow that open container in the trunk. When there is more than one person in the vehicle, the one closest to the open container is the one who receives the citation.
Why such strict standards?
There are a couple of reasons why Annapolis enforces its open container laws in the manner it does:
- Annapolis wants to maintain the quality and respectability of its lifestyle – gracious streets, colonial homes, colorful gardens. The Historic District is alive with music, diners, and revelers every night, but Annapolis open container laws aim to keep our narrow old streets sober and safe.
- Maryland’s eligibility for Federal highway funds – like all states – is improved if the state has open container laws in place.
But, Annapolis does a little more.
In addition to the vehicle restrictions described above, Annapolis open container laws prohibit open containers on city sidewalks, on the front steps of the entrance to any building, inside an Annapolis parking lot, and on school property.
Despite the presence of the Naval Academy and St. John’s College, students do not get a break. Students may be cited for open container misdemeanors, but they are also subject to additional charges if they are underage and in possession of or consuming alcohol.
If you’re an underage college student who has gotten caught consuming alcohol in Annapolis, the City’s laws may be the least of your worries. The colleges’ own policies may add to your problem with suspension and expulsion both possible penalties for underage drinking.
What to do?
If you’ve been arrested for violation of Annapolis open container laws, the key is to immediately call an attorney experienced in open container cases in Annapolis. Not only will a local attorney know all the players involved, they will also understand the best way to mount a defense. A good attorney will take a close look at whether the fine is higher than the norm, the charge is incorrectly made or processed, or the possibility that you just may be innocent. If the fine is more significant than typically levied for a civil violation and if the charge is criminal misdemeanor, you will want the help to keep it off your record.