An open container violation occurs when a person possesses an alcoholic beverage that is in an open container, such as a liquor bottle or a beer can that has been opened. The person caught with the open container of alcohol must be in the passenger area of a moving vehicle. In Texas, the passenger area includes unlocked glove compartments and consoles.
Possession of more than one open container of alcohol by a single person in a motor vehicle is a single offense.
Why Was I Charged with an Open Container Violation in Texas?
Texas has a law prohibiting the possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles. The offense is known as “possession of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles.” A person can be charged with this crime if they knowingly possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle traveling on a public highway.
Texas law defines a “public highway” as any public road, street, highway, interstate, right-of-way, or other area open to the public for traveling in a motor vehicle. Areas that are open to the public for purposes of this law also include such private properties as shopping center and grocery store parking lots and the like. Basically, any parking lot for a business or office building is a “public highway” for the purposes of the law.
Does It Matter If the Vehicle Is Parked?
A person can be charged with possessing an open container of alcohol while in a moving vehicle when the car is:
- Stopped, for example at the side of a road; or
- In motion.
How Does Texas Define “Open Container”?
The term “open container” applies to any alcoholic beverage in a container that can be opened so the alcoholic beverage can be consumed by the person who possesses it. It could any type of container in which alcoholic beverages are usually sold or from which they are consumed, for example:
- Any other container that is open, has been opened, has alcoholic contents partially removed, or has a broken seal.
Can I Be Charged If the Open Container Was in the Glove Compartment?
According to Texas state law, the passenger area is the area of the vehicle designed to seat passengers. It does not include:
- The vehicle’s trunk;
- A locked glove compartment;
- Other locked compartments within the passenger area of the vehicle;
- The vehicle’s storage area;
- If the vehicle does not have a trunk, behind the last upright seat of the vehicle.
So, if the glove compartment is locked, there can be an open container of alcohol in it. If the glove compartment is not locked, there should not be any open containers of alcohol in it.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Open Container Law in Texas:
Texas’s open container law does not apply to passengers in some types of vehicles. Passengers can possess an open container of alcohol in the following areas of vehicles:
- In the passenger area of a motor vehicle that is used primarily for the transportation of people for compensation, including such vehicles as a bus, taxi, or limousine; and
- In the living area of a motor home, self-contained camper, or other recreational vehicle.
As noted above, an open container of alcohol to be placed in a locked compartment such as a glove compartment or a trunk. If the vehicle does not have a trunk, the open container can be placed behind the last upright seat of the vehicle.
What Is the Punishment for Possessing an Open Container in Texas?
Possessing an open container in a vehicle is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas. This means that an open container conviction can lead to a $500 fine.
A person who possesses an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle is stopped by law enforcement, the person receives a written citation and a notice to appear before a judge. As long as the offender signs the notice promising to appear in court at a later date, they are released and not arrested and taken to jail.
Is the Penalty Enhanced If I Was Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) with an Open Container?
Possessing an open container of alcohol can enhance the penalties for a DWI conviction. The minimum jail sentence for a first DWI for an adult in Texas is usually three days, although a sentence of up to 180 days is possible. A first DWI conviction involving possession of an open container in a motor vehicle results in a minimum sentence of six days in jail.
Operating an amusement park ride while in possession of an open container of alcohol is also a criminal offense in Texas. Texas law makes it illegal to assemble an amusement park ride or operate the ride while intoxicated. As with a DWI conviction, possessing an open container while violating the amusement ride law is going to increase the minimum jail sentence from three to six days.
The crime of assembling or operating an amusement park ride while Intoxicated is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is as follows:
- Imprisonment for a minimum of 72 hours and up to 180 days; and/or
- A fine of up to $2,000.
These penalties are already serious, but there is the potential for additional penalties as noted.
There are many things that could complicate a person’s first offense of an intoxication-related charge, but below are two important ones:
- If, when a person is charged with assembling or operating an amusement park ride while Intoxicated, there was also an open container of alcohol nearby, then the person could also be charged with an open container offense. If convicted of both offenses, the minimum jail term could be increased by the addition of 3 to 6 days;
- If, when a person who operates or assembles an amusement park ride while Intoxicated, an accident occurs and someone is injured or killed, then the perpetrator faces additional charges, i.e., intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter. This could result in a term of imprisonment for multiple years or even decades, as well as hefty fines and civil liability to the victim. If more than one person is injured or killed, each one represents a separate offense;
- Depending on the circumstances and any prior convictions, a person’s driver’s license could also be suspended for up to two years for a first offense.
If a person is charged and convicted first of operating an amusement ride while Intoxicated and then, a year later, their first DWI, the crime is now a Class A misdemeanor because the DWI is considered a second offense even though it is technically a different offense.
A second offense that is a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by a term of imprisonment for 30 to 365 days and a fine up to $4,000. A third or subsequent offense would be charged as a third degree felony that has a penalty of 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Charge?
A violation of an open container law can lead not only to a serious fine, but also to a criminal record involving alcohol-related convictions. If the offense is combined with a conviction for DWI, the situation becomes more serious. Contact a Texas criminal defense lawyer immediately to avoid a lot of the long-term consequences of an alcohol-related crime.