Can I be Arrested for Having an Open Container of Alcohol in My Vehicle?

March 24th, 2021 by Tad Nelson in DWI

While just being cited for having an open container of alcohol in one’s vehicle doesn’t usually lead to an arrest, it is possible for those who find themselves in this position to also be charged with other criminal offenses, such as DWI. In these cases, drivers could be placed under arrest and booked, with both charges levied against them. 

Receiving a citation for having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle is not as serious as being convicted of a DWI. This does not mean, however, that these kinds of accusations should be taken lightly, as a citation for this kind of offense can still come with severe penalties and could even result in an arrest. Mounting a strong defense is critical for those who are facing this kind of alcohol-related charge. If you were recently cited for an open container violation, you should reach out to an experienced Houston open container violation lawyer who can help you. 

What is an Open Container Violation?

Texas’s open container law bars motorists from having any open containers of alcohol in their vehicles while on a public road, whether the car is being driven, is stopped, or is parked. A person cannot, however, be charged with this offense if the alcoholic beverage is found in a locked glove compartment, the trunk, or if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, in the area behind the last upright seat. An open container can include everything from a bottle or can to a flask or any receptacle that contains alcohol and has been opened, has a broken seal, or has had some of its contents removed. 

Arrest for an Open Container Violation

Generally, those who are pulled over for and accused of having an open container of alcohol in their vehicle will not usually be arrested if this is the only offense with which they are being charged. Instead, drivers who find themselves in this situation will usually be given a written citation and a notice to appear before a judge. As long as the driver signs the notice (thereby promising to appear in court at a later date), he or she will be released. 

What Should I Do If I Got an Open Container Violation?

Getting any kind of traffic ticket or citation in Texas can be angering and frustrating, especially when you may have been unfairly cited or ticketed by the law enforcement officer. Yet tickets and citations can seem minor when you have been charged with a criminal offense for anything related to drunk driving or driving while intoxicated (DWI). Indeed, facing any kind of traffic-related criminal charges can be extremely anxiety-inducing, and it is critical to work with an attorney to fight the charges since you will have a criminal record if you are convicted. While you might not realize it, having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle can result in criminal charges.

What should you do if you have been charged with an open container violation in Texas? Our Texas DWI defense lawyers are here to help.

Understand Texas Open Container Laws

First, it is essential to understand Texas open container laws and when you can face charges. Under the Texas Penal Code, a person can face open container charges “if the person knowingly possesses an open container in a passenger area of a motor vehicle that is located on a public highway, regardless of whether the vehicle is being operated or is stopped or parked.”

There are a couple of terms in there for which it is important to understand the definitions under Texas law. The Texas Penal Code defines an open container as a “bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and that is open, that has been opened, that has a broken seal, or the contents of which are partially removed.” Then, the Texas Penal Code defines the passenger area of a motor vehicle to mean “the area of a motor vehicle designed for the seating of the operator and passengers of the vehicle.” Glove compartments, trunks, and areas behind the last upright seats in a vehicle in cars without a trunk are not part of the passenger area.

Develop a Defense Strategy with a DUI/DWI Attorney in Texas

Knowing how the Texas Penal Code defines open container violations can help you to understand strategies for a defense. The next step after you have been charged with an open container violation is to begin working with a Texas open container defense lawyer to develop a defense strategy for your case. There are a number of possible defense strategies that may be relevant to your case, including but not limited to:

  • Open container was not in the passenger area of the vehicle, but rather was in a glove compartment or trunk area;
  • Open container was in the possession of a passenger—not the driver—and the passenger was located in the passenger area of the vehicle as a customer (if the vehicle as being used as a bus, taxi, or limo);
  • Open container was located in the living quarters of a motor home, RV, self-contained camper, or other similar vehicle;
  • Vehicle was not in operation on a public highway at the time of the open container violation; or
  • Open container did not actually contain alcohol.

It is not uncommon, however, for those who are accused of possessing an open container of alcohol in violation of Texas law, to also face allegations of driving while intoxicated. In these instances, unlike the former scenario, a driver could end up formally arrested and booked. In fact, having an open container in one’s vehicle can significantly enhance the penalties for a DWI conviction. For instance, the minimum jail sentence for a first DWI is usually three days. A first DWI conviction involving possession of an open container, on the other hand, requires a stay of at least six days in jail. 

Set Up a Consultation Today

For help defending yourself against an open container violation in Texas, please call 281-280-0100 and speak with one of the dedicated Houston open container violation lawyers at The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.

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