Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious criminal offense in Texas that carries harsh penalties and long-term consequences. However, DWI is not the only alcohol-related offense you can face when driving a motor vehicle in Texas.
Texas has an “open container” law that prohibits drivers from having unsealed bottles of alcoholic beverages within reach. However, there are ways to legally keep alcohol in your car without facing criminal charges under the open container law.
It is essential to seek the legal counsel of a McLennan County criminal defense attorney to discuss your potential defense strategies if you are facing alcohol-related charges in Texas.
Possession of Alcoholic Beverage in a Motor Vehicle in Texas
Under Texas Penal Code § 49.031, you can be charged with possession of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle. Even if you have not been drinking and field sobriety tests show that you are sober, you can get a citation for having an unsealed bottle of alcohol in your car.
The open container law in Texas makes it illegal for drivers to have an open container in the passenger area of the vehicle or within the driver’s reach. In other words, you can be charged with possession of alcoholic beverage in a car for having unsealed bottles of alcohol:
On the backseat
On the front passenger seat
In the cupholder
On the dashboard
Anywhere on the driver’s side
In other words, it is illegal to have an open container anywhere in the seating area of your motor vehicle in Texas. The law applies to bottles of wine, beer, whiskey, vodka, and other alcoholic beverages.
When Can You Be Charged with Violating the Open Container Law?
Simply having an open bottle in your motor vehicle may not be enough to be charged with possession of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle in Texas. Under Texas Penal Code § 49.031, a driver must “knowingly possess” an unsealed bottle of alcohol in the seating area of the car to be charged with the crime.
The vehicle must be on a public roadway or highway at the time of the offense. You can be cited and fined for violating the open container law even if your motor vehicle is not in motion.
Note: Under Texas law, possession of alcoholic beverages is a single criminal offense regardless of the number of open containers in the vehicle.
While you cannot be arrested for violating the open container law in Texas (instead, you will get a citation for it), you may face additional charges, including DWI, if you have been drinking. If that is the case, you could get arrested.
How Can You Legally Keep an Open Bottle of Alcohol in Your Car?
If you have a previously opened bottle of alcoholic beverage and need to transport it from one place to another, you can keep it legally in your motor vehicle if it is stored in:
Locked glove compartment
Another non-seating area of your vehicle (e.g., rear cargo area)
Are Passengers Allowed to Drink Alcohol in a Motor Vehicle?
No. Under Texas law, any open containers of alcohol in the seating area are illegal. For this reason, if a passenger is drinking alcohol in the front seat or on the backseat, the driver can be charged for possession of alcoholic beverage as long as the car is on a public roadway or highway and is:
The only exception to the open container law in Texas is that passengers can drink when riding in taxis, limousines, buses, and motorhomes.
Is It Illegal to Have an Open Bottle of Alcohol in the Parked Car?
Under the open container law, your vehicle does not necessarily have to be in motion for you to be charged with possession of an alcoholic beverage in a car. In other words, as long as your vehicle is on a public roadway or highway, you can face criminal charges for having an unsealed container of alcohol even if your car is parked or stopped.
What Are the Penalties for Driving with an Open Container in Texas?
Under Texas law, possession of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle – informally known as driving with an open container – is a Class C misdemeanor. While the offense is not punishable by jail time, a driver who drives with an unsealed container of alcohol can face a maximum fine of $500.
However, in many cases, drivers fined for possession of alcoholic beverages in a car can also be charged with other criminal offenses, including driving while intoxicated (DWI). If you are charged with DWI, the penalties can increase substantially. You could face:
Mandatory drug and alcohol awareness classes
Suspension of a driver’s license
While a Class C misdemeanor may not seem so bad, a conviction for possession of alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle can negatively impact:
Eligibility for financial aid
Admission to college
Last but not least, violating the open container law in Texas can result in higher insurance premiums.
Contact an Attorney
If you are facing charges for violating the Texas open container law, you need to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney right away. Any alcohol-related charges can impact various aspects of your life, which is why you need a skilled lawyer to protect your rights and future.
It can be difficult to fight against possession of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle charges, which is why you need a skilled lawyer to help you prepare a solid defense strategy.
One of the possible defenses could be that your vehicle was used primarily to transport people in return for monetary compensation (the open container law does not apply to taxicabs, buses, and limousines in Texas).
At The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard, our criminal defense lawyers are committed to helping you fight the charges and avoid a conviction. Let’s discuss your best course of action in your particular case during a free consultation. Call 254-501-4040 for a case review.