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 free consultation.