El Paso Open Container Ban Raises Concerns Over Criminalizing the Homeless

In general, it is legal for someone to possess an open container of alcohol in public. The main exception to this rule is the ban on open containers in the passenger area of a motor vehicle while it is on a public road. Inside of a car, neither the driver nor any of the passengers may generally possess an open container of beer or other alcoholic beverages. (Again, there are exceptions to this exception, such as the separate passenger of a recreational vehicle.)

But in terms of public areas outside of a motor vehicle, the only notable statewide ban is for people inside a state park. You cannot possess an open container in any outdoor or indoor area of a park.

The other notable exception is that individual cities and municipalities may ban open containers of alcohol within certain areas under regulations enforced by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. When a city exercises this power, it effectively makes possession of an open container a Class C misdemeanor. This means that while an offender faces no jail time if caught, they can be required to pay a fine of up to $500 per violation.

The City of El Paso recently made headlines when its City Council voted to expand a previously adopted ban on open containers within 1,000 feet of a homeless shelter. The existing ban only applied to shelters located within El Paso’s Downtown business district. But the new ordinance, which took effect immediately upon passage, extended the ban to all homeless shelters citywide.

KTSM reported that councilors moved to extend the open alcohol ordinance because residents of a neighborhood outside the Downtown area “were concerned about individuals” staying in a “nearby sports center which was converted into an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On the other hand, one homeless advocate told El Paso Matters that this could effectively lead to the criminalization of the homeless for drinking in public: “If this is being done to target the homeless, you are targeting individuals that either has no ability to pay the fine and if by chance — which is a slim chance they have the funds to do so — they have no desire to pay the fine.”

Speak with a Houston Open Container Violations Lawyer Today

Indeed, an open container fine may impose a substantial financial hardship on anyone with limited means. That is why it is important to defend yourself against such a charge. Additionally, if your open container violation is tied to a potential DWI, you may be facing far more serious consequences than a simple fine. You may be looking at the loss of your driver’s license or even possible jail time.

So if you have been charged with DWI and/or an open container violation and need legal advice, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today. Our experienced defense lawyers in Galveston, League City or Houston, will meet with you to discuss your case and spell out your legal options.