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Does an Open Container Give Texas State Troopers “Probable Cause” to Charge Me With DWI?

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Updated: Feb 10, 2023 @ 11:50 pm

The presence of an open container can not only serve as grounds to charge with you with an enhanced DWI offense. It frequently serves as justification for giving a police officer probable cause to detain you of suspicion of DWI in the first place. Remember, Houston-area law enforcement is carefully trained to spot any potential signs of intoxication in a driver–but even a layperson can infer the meaning of an open beer can or liquor bottle in the front seat.

Open Container Leads to Life Sentence

An open container may prove especially devastating for a driver who has a prior DWI conviction on his or her record. Consider this recent Texas drunk driving case. The defendant was involved in an accident while driving his truck. A trooper for the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived at the scene and determined the defendant had struck the back of a plow, causing the latter vehicle to “jackknife” and fall into a ditch.

The trooper interviewed the defendant in his police vehicle. The trooper later testified he smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath at this time. And when the trooper searched the defendant’s vehicle, he found an “open container of beer in the cupholder of [the defendant’s] vehicle.” The defendant then admitted he had consumed “a few beers” that day. After eventually procuring a search warrant, the trooper administered a blood-alcohol test to the defendant, which returned a reading of 0.17, more than twice the legal limit in Texas.

Felony DWI Conviction Affirmed by Appeals Court

A jury convicted the defendant of felony DWI. Since the defendant also had two prior convictions, the judge sentenced him to life in prison. The defendant appealed, raising several alleged errors made by the trial judge, but a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

Trooper’s Observation of Open Container Key to Arrest

In his appeal, the defendant argued the trooper lacked probable cause to arrest him. But as the appeals court explained, the facts of this case clearly justified the trooper’s actions.

Notably, the trial judge credited the fact the trooper “observed an open can of beer in the cup holder of [the defendant’s] pickup in plain view.” This, together with the defendant’s pre-arrest admission to drinking a couple of beers and the fact there was an accident involving the defendant’s vehicle, was more than enough to create probable cause of DWI.

Invoke Your Right to Speak With a Houston DWI Defense Lawyer

Houston DWI Attorney Tad NelsonThere are a couple of obvious lessons here. First, never drive while actively consuming alcohol of any kind. Second, certain never drive with an open container of alcohol in your car, even if you are not actually drinking it.

Finally, do not make any statements to the police regarding your drinking habits just prior to an accident or traffic stop. Invoke your right to remain silent and do not speak to the police until you consult with a qualified Texas DWI defense attorney.

Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Clear Lake, Houston, Galveston, or League City today if you have been charged with DWI and require immediate assistance.

The Law Office of Tad Nelson & Associates

Houston • Clear Lake • Galveston • League City

Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A Nelson is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the TBLS.

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