Texas law enforcement officers are often asked to respond to unusual situations. One of the more notable incidents this year involved a call to the Wichita Falls police from a local Walmart.
According to the Wal-Mart’s employees, there was a woman who had spent several hours driving around the store’s parking lot in an electric mobility scooter while drinking wine from a Pringles can (presumably with the potato crisps removed). According to the Wichita Falls Times Record News, the police located the woman and informed her she was banned from the Wal-Mart’s property.
After the story went viral, a Facebook group purportedly tried to organize a “Drinking Wine From A Pringles Can In Walmart Parking Lot” event, which ultimately drew just three people to an Austin-area Walmart. Local police at the scene noted that anyone seen committing an open container violation would be cited for a misdemeanor offense.
Breaking Down the Open Container Law
Which begs the question: Is it actually illegal to drink wine from an open Pringles can while driving an electric scooter around a parking lot? The answer to this question is not as obvious as you might think. Let’s start with the open-container law itself, which is contained at Section 49.031 of the Texas Penal Code. It states a person commits a Class C misdemeanor when all of the following are true:
- they knowingly possess an open container of alcohol, which includes any “bottle, can, or other receptacle” that is or has been opened;
- the open container is in a “passenger area” of a motor vehicle, excluding such places as a locked glove compartment or truck;
- the vehicle is located on a “public highway” while the operator is in possession of the open container.
There’s no question that putting wine into a Pringles can makes it an “open container” as defined by the statute. Even if you keep the lid on the can, it is still “open” in the sense it “has been opened” with a “broken seal.” Likewise, it seems clear that the woman in this story had possession of her open container in the “passenger area” of her electric scooter, given that she was actually drinking from it while driving.
Where things get trickier is deciding whether or not a Walmart parking lot qualifies as a “public highway.” The open-container law itself takes this to mean “the entire width between and immediately adjacent to the boundary lines of any public road, street, highway, interstate, or other publicly maintained way if any part is open for public use for the purpose of motor vehicle travel.”
As a general rule, a privately owned parking lot would probably not fall within this definition, but keep in mind, if the woman had taken her scooter onto the street for even a few seconds, then there would be a clear violation.
Charged with DWI w/an Open Container?
Speak with a Licensed Texas DWI Lawyer Today
Also note that even if you are just drinking wine out of a Pringles can, you can still be cited for DWI if you are actually driving a vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration of more than 0.08 percent. And there are enhanced penalties if the police find an open container at the time of your DWI arrest.
If you need legal advice or representation in any DWI or open-container matter from a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.