Most states have some form of open container law. In Texas, this refers to a specific statute that prohibits an individual from operating any kind of motor vehicle while there is an open “bottle, can or other receptacles that contain any amount of alcoholic beverage” in it.
In other words, it is perfectly fine to have an unopened six-pack in the back seat of your car while you drive, but if even one of those cans is opened and half-full, a police officer could cite you for an open container violation, which is a Class C misdemeanor.
New Mexico Court Holds Defendant Littered But Did Not Commit Open Container Violation
But even when it comes to a relatively low-level misdemeanor, prosecutors still have to prove all elements of the charged offense. A recent decision from just across the border in New Mexico, State v. Slowman, offers an example of a defendant who managed to get an open-container conviction reversed on appeal.
Open Container Laws in New Mexico
New Mexico’s open container law is similar to that of Texas. Essentially, it is illegal for anyone to knowingly operate a motor vehicle while in possession of “any bottle, can or other receptacle containing any alcoholic beverage that has been opened or had its seal broken or the contents of which have been partially removed.”
In this particular case, a police officer was manning a highway DWI checkpoint. The officer observed a pick-up truck turning off the road and onto a vacant lot. The officer testified that drivers often made such sudden turns in an attempt to evade the checkpoint.
When the truck stopped, a woman got out of the vehicle. The defendant was sitting in the passenger seat. Notwithstanding this, the defendant admitted to the officer that he had been driving the truck. This eventually led to the defendant’s arrest on drunk driving charges.
Prosecutors also charged the defendant with an open-container violation based on the officer’s observation that several beer cans had been thrown from the truck. The cans were of a similar brand to a number of unopened cans found in the vehicle. And there was no evidence introduced at trial with respect to whether the cans tossed from the vehicle were empty or partially empty.
Nevertheless, the trial court found the defendant guilty of the open container violation and several other charges. On appeal, prosecutors conceded the evidence was insufficient to support the open-container conviction, given there was no actual evidence of any open containers found on the defendant’s person or vehicle at the time of his arrest. The New Mexico Court of Appeals agreed to reverse this part of the defendant’s conviction.
Convicted of Littering Too!
It should be noted, however, that throwing empty beer cans from a car onto someone else’s property without their consent is still considered littering under New Mexico law. The trial court found the defendant guilty of this separate offense, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.
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Open container violations are often part of a larger DWI prosecution. If you are facing such charges, you need to work with an experienced Houston DWI defense lawyer who can assist you in presenting your case in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City to speak with a member of our team today.