Brian White | November 9, 2022 | DUI
It is common knowledge that driving under the influence of alcohol in Texas is against the law. You could face jail time and fines for a DUI conviction. However, some drivers are unaware that they could face harsh penalties for having an open container in the car, even if they have not been drinking alcohol.
What Is the Texas Open Container Law?
Texas Penal Code Title 10 §49.031 states a person commits an offense if they knowingly have an open container in a passenger area of a vehicle on a public highway. The law applies even though an automobile is parked or stopped.
An open container is defined as:
- A can, bottle, or other receptacles that contain any amount of alcohol;
- That is open or has been opened; or
- Has a broken seal; or,
- The contents of the container have been partially removed.
It is also important to understand what “passenger area” and “public highway” mean because the law uses these terms to define whether a person is committing the offense of having an open container in a vehicle.
The code defines “passenger area” as an area in the vehicle designed for the driver or passengers to sit. It does not include:
- The truck
- A glove compartment or locked storage container
- The area behind the upright seat closest to the rear of the vehicle if the vehicle does not have a trunk
An offense under this code section is a Class C misdemeanor. The police officer issues a written citation to the person and a notice to appear before a magistrate.
Therefore, based on the language in the Texas open container law, you can be charged with the offense even if you are sitting in a parked vehicle and have not had anything to drink. Merely having an “open container” in the vehicle in violation of the law is sufficient to be charged with a misdemeanor offense.
What Is the Penalty for Violating the Texas Open Container Law?
If the only charge is an open container charge, the penalty is generally a fine with no jail time. You could have points assessed against your driver’s license. However, that is not the only consequence of being convicted of having an open container in your vehicle.
An open container could give a police officer probable cause to search your vehicle. It could also give the officer probable cause to conduct a DUI investigation. Both situations could result in serious criminal charges if the officer discovers another violation.
A conviction for a misdemeanor results in a criminal record. A criminal record can impact numerous areas of your life, including obtaining professional licenses, being admitted to college, qualifying for student loans, and getting your desired job.
Are There Exceptions to the Open Container Law in Texas?
Understanding the law helps you know whether you have a defense to the charges. For example, it is important to note that there are two exceptions to the open container law:
- The passenger area in the vehicle is designed, used, and maintained for transporting passengers for hire (i.e., busses, limos, taxis, etc.); OR,
- The passenger area is the living quarters of a motorized house trailer or house coach, including a recreational vehicle, motor home, and self-contained camper.
You can ask a criminal defense lawyer near you if you have questions about an open container charge.
Can an Open Container Charge Impact a Personal Injury Case?
If you are involved in an accident with an open container, the accident victims might use that against you in a personal injury case. Typically, car accident claims are based on negligence. Proving negligence requires you to have evidence proving:
- The party who caused your injury owed you a duty of care
- The party breached their duty of care through their conduct
- The breach of duty was the cause of the accident
- You sustained damages because of the accident
Therefore, you must prove the person breached the duty of care to establish negligence. However, negligence per se assumes a person breached the duty of care and is negligent if they violated the law as part of causing a person’s injury.
In cases where it could be difficult to prove negligence because of a lack of evidence, the driver being charged with an open container violation could help the victim establish negligence. In other words, the open container violation could lead to liability for economic and non-economic damages caused by a car accident.
On the other hand, if the accident victim had an open container in the car, the at-fault driver might argue contributory fault. They might use the open container to allege the driver was impaired and the impairment contributed to the cause of the accident.
If a jury believes the victim was partially to blame for causing the accident, they could assign fault to the victim. The victim’s compensation is reduced by their percentage of fault. In Texas, if you are over 51% at fault for causing a car crash, you cannot receive any money for a claim.
Contact the Houston DUI Lawyers at Attorney Brian White Personal Injury Lawyers For Help
Attorney Brian White Personal Injury Lawyers
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Houston, TX 77098
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Houston, TX 77054