Texans might believe that they can only be arrested and charged with DWI offenses and alcohol-related violations while in a car if they are operating the vehicle under the influence. However, there are other aspects of the law that can result in being charged for alcohol-related offenses while in a motor vehicle. It is important to know the justifications behind a charge for being in possession of an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle and the when it is legal under the law to have an open container.
An open container refers to a can, bottle or any other item that has an alcoholic beverage in it and is open, was opened, has a seal that was broken, or has contents that have been partially removed. The passenger area of the vehicle is the area where people, including the driver, will be seated. Not classified as the passenger area are the following: the glove compartment or a locked storage container; the trunk; and the area that is behind the last upright seat if there is not a trunk in the vehicle.
The law also states that the offense must occur on a "public highway." This essentially refers to any road upon which a vehicle will travel and is open for public use. When a person has an open container on a public highway, it is a violation even if the vehicle is not moving. If more than one person has an open container, it is all one offense. There are exceptions to this law. If the vehicle is for transporting others like a bus or limousine or if it is a motor home or similar vehicle, it is legal to have an open container in the passenger area. A violation is a Class C misdemeanor.
While a Class C misdemeanor has a maximum penalty of a fine of $500, those who are placed under arrest for an offense related to an open container might find themselves facing other charges based on the circumstances. Regardless, having legal help to avoid convictions, penalties and potential consequences for DWI and related charges is an imperative. No person should automatically accept these charges without a defense. An attorney can help.
Source: statutes.legis.state.tx.us, "Sec. 49.031. Possession of Alcoholic Beverage in Motor Vehicle.," accessed on Jan. 9, 2017