Is There A Law That Requires Liquor Purchases To Be Bagged?

Is There A Law That Requires Liquor Purchases To Be Bagged?

Last updated: September 2012

The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette. This column provides general information, and cannot be relied upon as legal advice.


Why do stores make you put liquor purchases in a bag?  Is there any law that requires it?  Does it have anything to do with illegal transportation of alcohol?


Stores may insist that all liquor sales be bagged, but no law requires it.  “It’s the law” is a myth.

A company policy might require bagging liquor sales—or everything—as proof of purchase.  But it’s perfectly legal to exit a store brandishing a bottle of booze.

To confirm this, I contacted the Illinois Liquor Control Commission.  They said:  “It may be that some local jurisdictions require alcohol to be bagged, but there is no state bagging law.”

As far as I can tell, neither Champaign nor Urbana requires it.  The closest that either town’s code comes is a Champaign provision that says “no person shall carry open containers of alcoholic liquor out of any liquor service premises.”

But the “container” they’re talking about is the can or bottle that came from the manufacturer—not the bag the store puts the container into when you buy it. (Urbana says “original package” is the manufacturer’s “bottle, flask, jug, can, barrel, keg, hogshead or other receptacle.”)

Illinois law makes it illegal for drivers to “transport” open containers of alcohol.  That’s the offense of illegal transportation of alcohol in a motor vehicle. 

It’s also illegal for either drivers or passengers to “carry, possess, or have” open containers.  That’s the illegal possession of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

They’re two different offenses.  A driver could commit both.  A driver transports alcohol illegally whenever a passenger possesses alcohol illegally.

Two things must combine to make transportation or possession illegal:  the alcohol is NOT in “the original container and with the seal unbroken;” and the alcohol is “within the passenger area of any motor vehicle upon a highway.”

My expert tells me loose cans or bottles are not illegal, even removed from their original packaging, as long as each can or bottle has never been opened.  A cooler full of never-opened beer, in the passenger area, is therefore not illegal transportation. 

What’s the “passenger area”?  Our Attorney General opined in 1976 that it’s “that portion of a motor vehicle which is primarily designed for or which is adapted or devoted to the carrying of passengers.”  According to the AG, that includes “any area of the motor vehicle which is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger.”

Trunks are therefore generally OK for opened containers—but maybe not if a folded down back seat makes the trunk “accessible.” 

Vans?  My expert opined that “a locked box or closed cooler in the far back end of the van” probably would avoid a ticket for opened containers—if “no one’s draping their arm over the back seat.”

Accessibility, he emphasized, really comes down to the particular facts.

If you’re 21 or over, illegal transportation is a moving violation, with 25 “points.”  A second offense within 12 months suspends your license.   If you’re under 21, the first illegal transportation suspends your license; #2 revokes it.


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