Can I Be Charged with an Open Container Violation as a Passenger?

Motorists in Texas are prohibited from possessing an open container of alcohol, not only while driving but also while parked or stopped, as long as the vehicle is located on a public road. Although many people don’t realize it, this prohibition applies to anyone who is sitting in a passenger area, even if they never intended to drive. This type of charge can have serious consequences, so if you were recently arrested for committing an open container violation while driving in someone else’s vehicle, it is important to talk with an experienced Houston open container violation lawyer about building a strong defense. 

What Qualifies as a Passenger Area?

A person can be convicted of committing an open container violation in Texas if he or she knowingly possessed an open container while in a vehicle. As we mentioned earlier, this applies to anyone seated in a passenger area, which is defined as any place:

  • Where a container of alcohol is visible to the car’s driver; and
  • That is within the driver’s reach. 

Because what qualifies as a passenger area is defined so broadly, passengers themselves can actually be arrested for being in possession of an open alcohol container. This is true even when the person in question is never actually in a position to actually operate the vehicle. In fact, if someone gets pulled over while a passenger is holding an open container, both the driver and the passenger can be charged with violating Texas law. The law does, however, explicitly exclude open containers that are stored in car trunks, locked gloves compartments, and areas behind the back row of seats in vehicles that don’t have trunks. 

Defining Open Container

Texas law defines an open container as any bottle, flask, can, or container that has any amount of alcohol in it, as long as the container is open or has been opened. A bottle of liquor, for instance, that had been opened on a prior occasion, but was currently screwed shut, would qualify as an open container if it was in a person’s hand. Only bottles with their factory seals still intact that have not been opened are excluded from this definition. 

 

Public Roads

Open Container Violation - Non Moving Vehicle

Open containers are not the only things that are defined broadly under Texas law. The term public highways, for instance, doesn’t just include interstates and freeways, but also applies to any publicly-maintained road. In fact, the areas next to any public road are covered by Texas’ open container law, so even if a person is parked on a back road, he or she could technically be charged with violating the open container law. 

Experienced Houston Open Container Violation Lawyers

To speak with a dedicated attorney about defending yourself from unfair DWI charges in Houston, Galveston or League City, please call The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at 281-962-7817 today. You can also reach a member of our legal team to schedule an initial consultation by completing one of our brief online contact forms.