During the holiday season, many Houston-area residents will attend social gatherings where alcohol is served. Aside from the obvious–never drive while intoxicated–it is also important to remember Texas has strict open container laws.
So while it is perfectly legal to transport unopened beer, wine, and liquor bottles in your car or truck, make sure there are no opened or half-empty containers of liquor while you are in your car. Even if you are not driving or committing a DUI, a police officer can still cite you for a misdemeanor offense.
What Qualifies as a Texas Open Container Violation?
There are three basic elements to an open container violation in Texas: The person (1) knowingly possesses an open container (2) in a passenger area of a motor vehicle (3) that is located on a public highway. Let’s break each of these down in some more detail.
- An “open container” refers to any “bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage” that has its seal broken or its contents “partially removed.”
- The “passenger area” of a vehicle includes the entire seating area, not just the driver’s seat. However, it does not include the glove compartment, trunk, the area behind the back seat (if there is no trunk), or any other locked storage container.
- A vehicle is “on the public highway” if it is on any road or street where “any part is open for public use for the purpose of motor vehicle travel.” A vehicle does not actually have to be in motion; it is still a violation if someone has an open container while parked on the side of the road, unless it is on a private driveway.
There are also two critical exceptions to the open container rule. Namely, it is not illegal for someone to possess an open container while in a motor vehicle on a public highway if:
- He or she is riding in the passenger area of a vehicle used “primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation,” such as a taxicab or bus.
- He or she is riding in the “living quarters” of a motor home or “motorized house trailer.”
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Under the law, police officers can simply issue a citation for an open container violation. This is basically a notice directing the person to appear before a magistrate at a later date. Since an open container violation is a Class C misdemeanor, the court can only impose a fine of no more than $500. There is no jail time for this offense.
Of course, if the police officer has reason to suspect you were intoxicated while in control of your vehicle, that is a much more serious affair. You can be charged not only with DWI, you may also face enhanced penalties if the prosecution can prove there was an open container in the car at the time.
This is why you should always work with an experienced defense lawyer for open container violations anytime you are facing criminal charges. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need help today.