Merely possessing what looks like an open bottle of alcohol is not itself enough to sustain a conviction for possessing an open container of alcohol.

Earl Workman v. United States, No. 13-CM-323 (decided July 31, 2014)

The Players: Fisher, Beckwith, Ferren. Opinion by Judge Beckwith. Montrell Scaife for appellant. Trial judge: Harold Cushenberry.

The Facts: The police pulled Mr. Workman over for talking on his cell phone while driving. While examining Mr. Workman's registration, one of the officers noticed what appeared to be a partially empty tequila bottle on the floor behind the driver's seat. The officers removed Mr. Workman from the vehicle and searched the car for "additional contraband that would have coincided with the open container of alcohol." The search, however, yielded no such "contraband." Although the officers did photograph the tequila bottle, they did not examine it or "pick it up and look at it." The traffic stop and automobile search ultimately led to Mr. Workman's arrest and conviction for possessing an open container of alcohol ("POCA").

Issue: Was Mr. Workman's conviction for POCA supported by sufficient evidence?

Holding: No. Although the tequila label on the bottle was "solid proof of what was in the container when it was bottled and sold," that evidence "reveals much less about what the bottle contained after it was opened" and could not, by itself, constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of note: The government can obtain a conviction for POCA based on circumstantial evidence, but the evidence must be more compelling than an officer's observation that an individual possesses what appears to be an open bottle of alcohol. CK.

Read the full opinion here.