How the Presence of an Open Container Can Affect Your DWI Case in Texas

Not all DWIs are created the same in Texas. In many cases there may be special circumstances that justify an “enhanced” DWI charge–i.e., one that may result in more jail time or higher fines. One of the more common enhancements in Texas is the DWI with open container charge.

Plastic Cup, Empty Bottle Helps Justify DWI Arrest

Here is an example of how this enhancement works in practice. This is taken from a recent Texas appeals court decision. The defendant was driving his vehicle through Denton County. Another driver noticed the defendant was driving erratically–swerving, varying his speed, nearly striking other vehicles, et al.–and called 911.

Local police responded to the call. An officer spotted the defendant’s vehicle. After observing the defendant failing to obey local traffic laws, the officer initiated a stop.

During the stop, the officer said the defendant’s eyes “were red and glassy” and his breath smelled of alcohol. More to the point, there was a “Solo cup in the center console with an empty [rum] bottle next to it.” In response to the officer’s questions, the defendant gave inconsistent answers as to whether he had been drinking that night.

Another officer arrived at the scene and conducted multiple field sobriety tests, which the defendant failed. The officers then placed the defendant under arrest for DWI. The defendant refused to submit to a blood or breath test, but on the basis of the other evidence presented, the jury found the defendant guilty.

On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him. The Texas Eighth District Court of Appeals rejected this argument and upheld the defendant’s conviction. Even without a Breathalyzer test, Texas law allows a jury to convict a defendant of DWI under the “impairment theory” of intoxication. In other words, the prosecution need only prove the defendant “did not have the normal use of his mental or physical faculties” due to the use of alcohol or a controlled substance.

In addition, the Eighth District said the defendant was properly subject to an open-container enhancement. In fact, the defendant actually pleaded “true” to enhancement at trial. This relieved the prosecution of its burden to prove an open-container violation. But the appeals court noted there was sufficient evidence to support the enhancement in any event. The law only requires proof the defendant had “immediate access” to an open container of alcohol. Here, the officer’s testimony regarding the Solo cup and empty rum bottle in the center console met that burden.

Have You Been Charged With an Open-Container DWI? We Can Help

In cases like the one described above, having an open container enhancement means the defendant is required to serve at least six days in jail, as opposed to just three days for a regular DWI misdemeanor conviction. This emphasizes the importance of working with a qualified Texas DWI defense attorney whenever you are charged with a drunk driving offense of any kind. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City today if you need immediate legal assistance.