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Cocktails and Coronavirus

“I can’t wait until things go back to normal.”  This is probably one thought we can all agree upon in one way or another.  Whether it’s schools reopening, being able to go out to eat and have someone else do the dishes, or simply give your friend who you haven’t seen in months a hug, we have much to look forward to.  But let’s not get all sappy here.  We’re lawyers and we’re (mostly) heartless, as you well know.  So here’s our first topic in talking about a return to normal criminal activities!

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One of the many changes the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about in Arizona is your ability to buy alcoholic beverages to go, as long as they’re in “sealed” containers.  You call in your order to your favorite local restaurant, you collect your food all boxed up, and your margarita comes in a juice bottle.  Or a plastic cup with a straw, which is, uh, sealed?  Whatever.  Did you put these in your trunk, outside of the passenger compartment of your car, where they could tip over?  Not a chance.  That margarita went straight into the cup holder at your right hand, just as easily accessed as your cell phone or the chips.  Up until a month or so ago, just putting that alcohol laced cup next to you could land you with a misdemeanor charge for having an open container in your vehicle, and really, if you started sipping from it while an officer was waiting next to you at the light, I don’t see things going well for you, even today.

When Governor Doug Ducey issued the Stay at Home order and its predecessor limiting certain business operations, Executive Order 2020-09, and shut down all in-restaurant dining, he authorized temporary changes to the enforcement of Arizona’s liquor laws, one of which prohibited restaurants from “knowingly permit[ting] spirituous liquor to be removed from the licensed premises, except in the original unbroken package.”  A.R.S. § 4-244.32.  So that margarita you got?  The restaurant had to crack open an original, unbroken bottle of tequila and maybe some cointreau to make it for you.  Then they had to walk out the front door and to your car with it.  Those would normally be violations and would jeopardize the restaurant’s liquor license.  For now, though, we want our local restaurants to survive, and they make money from selling beer, wine, and liquor.

One thing we’ve noticed from reviewing the governor’s Executive Order 2020-09 and the Arizona Department of Liquor’s guidelines is that the alcohol-to-go must still be sold in sealed containers, presumably to prevent drivers from having open containers in their cars.  So if you or your passenger (wait, should you really have a passenger with you?) decides to open up that bottled margarita while you’re still in your car, the police could still criminally charge you for having an open alcoholic container in your vehicle.  Whether they actually would during this time remains up for debate.

So how long are we going to be able to buy our cocktails to go?  My best guess is that as long as Arizona’s restaurant dining rooms remain closed, the governor will continue to allow to go alcohol sales.  Executive Order 2020-09 and its provisions remain intact “until further notice,” and since we still have at least another 15 days of staying at home and then a gradual reopening, I’d say we’ve still got a fair amount of time.

Now, get out there, support your local restaurants, and get a beer to go with that burger!  And if you do happen to get a definitive answer on the open container law because you now have a court date, support your local criminal defense attorneys, too!