The Illinois Open Container Statute
Section 11-502 of the Illinois Vehicle Code states that
You should think of an open container of an alcoholic beverage in your car the same way you would think of any other kind of contraband.
An officer who sees an open container of alcohol can then search your car with out a warrant. See Can Police Search Your Car? The Ultimate Police Car Search Guide and Probable Cause For A Car Search.
Section 11-502(a) Requires Presence Of Alcohol
Section 11-502(a) turns on the actual presence of alcohol, not merely the container.
An officer must not only see an opened can or bottle of liquor, but an offier must also have some assurances the can’s are not empty.
Illinois Plain View Doctrine
Where an item is seen in plain view, it must be “immediately apparent” that the object is contraband or evidence of a crime before the object’s presence will establish probable cause for a search. Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730, 737 (1983) (quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 466 (1971)); see also People v. Nadermann, 309 Ill. App. 3d 1016, 1020 (2000) (The so-called automobile exception, provides that a warrantless search of an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband.)
Illinois Open Container Case Law
See Smith, 95 Ill. 2d 412. Although the mere possession of alcohol is legal, this court nevertheless held that the officer had probable cause to search for alcohol in a vehicle where the officer smelled alcohol and observed a bottle in a brown paper bag in the vehicle. Id. at 416, 419.
Multiple districts of our appellate court have also found probable cause to search a vehicle under similar circumstances.
- People v. Gray, 95 Ill. App. 3d 879, 882 (1981) (officer had probable cause to arrest defendant for illegal transportation of open liquor upon seeing two open beer cans, which smelled like beer, in his truck in plain view);
- People v. Zeller, 51 Ill. App. 2d 935 (1977) (probable cause established by observation of an open beer can and a puddle near the can, although officer did not detect the odor of alcohol);
- People v. Corrigan, 45 Ill. App. 3d 502 (1977) (search of a glove compartment was justified where officer smelled alcohol, observed damp spot on car floor, and saw liquid dripping from the glove compartment).
- People v. Bailey, 2019 IL App (3d) 180396 (May). Episode 631 (Duration 15:01) (DUI Probable Cause And Chicken Wing Hot Sauce In Your Beard)
- Episode 558 – People v. Williams, 2018 IL App (2d) 160683 (October) (A Recap Of Recent DUI Probable Cause Cases)
235 ILCS 5/6-16 (illegal for persons under 21 years old to possess alcohol)