State of North Carolina v. Jones - Open Container Citation & the Failure to Include Essential Elements of the Offense

Posted by Josh Valentine | Oct 09, 2017

Open container violations have invariably accompanied DWI and DUI charges and convictions in most states. However, a recent slew of appeals in open container cases reveal that the charge's applicability and enforcement in these jurisdictions are often misconceived by both police departments and civilians alike. Among such cases, is a situation involving a North Carolina resident who was convicted of violating the state's open container law, but alleges that the citation written by the arresting officer does not align with state law in his petition to appeal.

The Case: State of North Carolina V. Jones

According to recent court documents, the defendant, Daryl Jones, was stopped by law enforcement on the night of January 4, 2015. The arresting officer accounted in his police report that Jones' excessive speeding - 65 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone - led him to pull the man over. The officer claimed that once the man was stopped, he noticed an open can of Coors Light in the passenger's area of Jones' vehicle that was halfway consumed. After several roadside tests were conducted, the officer concluded Jones was not impaired, but still issued a citation for speeding and operating a vehicle with an open container of alcohol in the vehicle.

Jones was found not guilty of speeding but he was convicted for the open container violation. It was the information that the arresting officer failed to include in the written citation that is the basis of the appeal. The defendant argued that although there was a presence of alcohol in the vehicle, the remaining elements of the crime, such as the defendant's operation of a motor vehicle upon a public road or highway, and the evidence to prove the defendant's willfulness to commit the said crime were omitted. Jones proceeded to argue that in the absence of these facts, the validity of the citation was void and did not meet the requirements for a valid criminal pleading in the state of North Carolina.

North Carolina law (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-924) explicitly states that a legitimate pleading must contain “facts supporting every element of a criminal offense and the defendant's commission thereof[.]” Therefore, the officer's imprecise written citation did not meet this standard and should not have led to an indictment of this crime. Although the court claims that a citation should not obligate police officers to provide a “hyper-technical assertion of each element of an offense,” these elements along with the evidence to support it should be included. After all, without proof of all of the elements of an open container violation, a jury or judge should not be able to conclude that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In her conclusion, Judge Valerie Zachary explained her line of reasoning for wanting to grant the appeal. “All criminal pleadings, including citations, must allege facts that establish every element of the offense with which the defendant is charged,” she wrote.

Experienced North Carolina DWI Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you have been arrested for a DWI or for an open container violation, you should immediately consult with an attorney. DWIs and related crimes are incredibly complex. Let the skilled legal professionals at Caulder & Valentine navigate through the legal system for you. Contact us today for a consultation.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits, and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person who was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer. So that’s why I became an attorney. I understand what you are going through, and I’m here to help you. Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life.” Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar