SJC: It’s illegal, but not criminal to have open container of alcohol in the car

SJC: It's illegal, but not criminal to have open container of alcohol in the car

BOSTON — It’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle, but as of Friday, it’s not criminal.

After years of ambiguity surrounding Massachusetts’ open container laws, the Supreme Judicial Court decided it’s no longer a criminal issue, just civil.

“You shouldn’t have an open container in your car, period,” said Kathleen Bishop of Norwood.

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Bishop is a former emergency room nurse who has seen her share of drunken driving injuries.

“I know what the damage from accidents does to people,” she said.

She also is the mother of a police officer and says the shift from criminal to civil offenses for open containers simply opens a can of worms.

“Criminal makes a better stand, it means you are going to be responsible for your actions.”

Attorney Edward Crane argued to get this rule changed in front of the SJC. He represented a man in Marlborough acquitted on operating under the influence but found guilty of a criminal offense of possessing an open container of alcohol.

Crane says the question of civil vs. criminal had been inconsistent from court to court.

“I think it just established a precedent before it it was a lack of clarity,” said Crane.

But does the new precedent encourage people to drive with booze openly available in their cars?

“They are not going to be thinking whether you should possess an open container in a motor vehicle based on whether it’s criminal or civil or not,” he said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving tell Boston 25 News, "The decision today will make it more difficult for prosecutors to hold drunk drivers accountable for their careless and deadly choice to drink and drive with an open container of alcohol.”