DWI, Open Container, and Underage Drinking

“What is the Louisiana drinking age?” is one of the most frequent questions we get asked. This is followed closely by questions about Louisiana’s confusing open container laws and the changes that have taken place in the Louisiana drunk driving rules.

***WARNING: the legal drinking age in Louisiana is 21, it is not 18.***

  • LSA R.S. 93:11 makes it illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of twenty-one years.
  • LSA R.S. 93:12 makes it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or have public possession of an alcoholic beverage.
  • LSA R.S. 93:13 makes it illegal for anyone to buy alcoholic beverages for anyone under the age of 21 years except for a parent, guardian or spouse of the person under 21.

So, it would appear that someone under 21 years cannot buy or have in his possession (in public) any alcoholic beverage. It would also appear that it would not be illegal for someone under 21 to drink at home if a parent buys the booze.

***WARNING: a blood alcohol level of .08 is presumptive of being under the influence or driving while intoxicated.***

Louisiana Open Container

It is illegal for the vehicle operator to be in possession of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a motor vehicle according to LSA 32:300. To summarize:

“Alcoholic beverage” means any of the following: (a) Beer, ale, etc. containing one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume, brewed or produced from malt, wholly or in part (b) Wine of not less than one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume. (c) Distilled spirits which is that substance known as ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or spirits of wine in any form, including all dilutions and mixtures thereof from whatever source or by whatever process produced.

“Motor vehicle” means a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public highways.

“Open alcoholic beverage container” means any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and to which any of the following is applicable: (i) It is open or has a broken seal. (ii) Its contents have been partially removed. “Open alcoholic beverage container” shall not mean any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of frozen alcoholic beverage unless the lid is removed or a straw protrudes through the lid.

“Passenger area” means the area designed to seat the driver and passengers while the motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger while in their seating positions, including the glove compartment. It shall not mean a locked glove compartment or behind the last upright seat, or any area not normally occupied by the driver or a passenger in a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a trunk.

***TIP: Breathalyzer tests have become very accurate. In a 2000 Louisiana case, a defendant convicted of third offense DWI was sentenced to five years at hard labor without parole. He appealed on the grounds that his refusal to take a breathalyzer test left only circumstantial evidence that he was drunk. The testimony of the police officer as to the results of a field sobriety test was enough to maintain the conviction where the defendant had admitted to the officer that he knew he would not pass the breathalyzer. State v. Olivier***

DWI Rules

The crime of operating a vehicle while intoxicated is spelled out in LSA R.S. 14:98. To summarize:

  • Automobiles, watercraft, aircraft or any “motor vehicle” are covered by the law. Also covered is “other means of conveyance” which would possibly include bicycles, etc.
  • If the “operator’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 percent or more by weight based on grams of alcohol per one hundred cubic centimeters of blood” then he is presumed intoxicated.
  • Drugs other than alcohol can also be grounds to charge and convict someone under this statute if it is a controlled dangerous substance as set forth in R.S. 40:964.
  • A combination of alcohol and prescription or over the counter drugs can constitute DWI if the label of the drug warns against combining the medication with alcohol.
  • Higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood (0.15 or more) can lead to stiffer sentencing.
  • Vehicle accidents in which alcohol was involved (0.08 or more) can lead to criminal charges of negligent injury or negligent homicide in addition to any other traffic charges.