What Is an Open Container? What Are the Potential Penalties?
It’s commonly understood in Texas that you can be criminally prosecuted if you are stopped by police and there’s sufficient evidence to indicate that you are driving while impaired by alcohol. What many Texans don’t know, though, is that you can be pulled over and charged with having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle and that such a charge can lead to a DWI prosecution.
What Are the Texas Open Container Laws?
As a general rule, the state of Texas, like other states, makes it a criminal offense to operate a motor vehicle with an open alcohol container inside the vehicle. Under Texas law, all occupants of a motor vehicle are prohibited from having an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle. The passenger area includes anywhere a person can ride in the vehicle—the front seat, the back seat, or anywhere else inside the vehicle.
Open container charges are always filed against the driver of the vehicle, regardless of who has the open container. Accordingly, if you have a passenger in the back seat drinking alcohol (even without your knowledge or permission), you can be charged with an open container violation.
The definition of “container” is broad under Texas law and can include cans, bottles, growlers, kegs, and cups. If the seal has been broken on a can, bottle, or keg, it’s considered an open container. Any type of container—a cup, bowl, water bottle, or other vessel—can be considered an open container if there’s evidence that it has, or recently had, alcohol in it.
Open container laws apply regardless of whether a vehicle is parked, temporarily stopped, or moving down the road. The law does not cover open containers when the vehicle is on private property, but you can be cited anytime you have an open container in a vehicle on a public street, road, or highway.
The Two Exceptions to the Texas Open Container Laws
Texas allows two exemptions from the ban on open containers in a motor vehicle:
- If the vehicle is essentially a home or living space, such as a camper or motorhome, you may have an open container inside, but the driver may not consume alcoholic beverages while the vehicle is in motion.
- Limousines, charter buses, and similar types of vehicles that are used to transport paying customers may also allow passengers to imbibe alcoholic beverages. Drivers, however, are not exempt.
Penalties for Texas Open Container Law Violations
Simple possession of an open container in Texas is considered a Class C misdemeanor. You can be charged even if you have not consumed any alcohol yourself. Conviction can lead to a ticket, a fine, and possible points on your driving record.
In addition, an open container can give police officers probable cause to determine if you are intoxicated. You may be asked questions, subjected to a field sobriety test, and even asked to submit to a blood alcohol test. If you exceed the legal limit, you can face DWI charges, even if you weren’t traveling down the road at the time police officers initiated their investigation. Officers may use circumstantial evidence to show that you were drinking and driving.
Contact the Aggressive Criminal Defense Attorneys at Bailey & Galyen
At the law office of Bailey & Galyen, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment with a proven Texas criminal defense lawyer, contact us by email or call our offices at 844-402-2992. We will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.