Your Rights Matter: Secure Them With A Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney
The American legal system, while just, can be intimidating and complex. Without proper representation from an experienced criminal defense lawyer, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and lost when facing criminal charges under Texas open container laws. Cofer & Connelly, PLLC open container attorneys are committed to ensuring that your rights are not just protected but actively defended. Our criminal defense attorneys bring a combination of legal skill, dedication, and personal touch to each case we handle. Make a calculated and informed decision about your future by reaching out to us. Dial (512) 991-0576 or get in touch online to start a dialogue about crafting your defense strategy.
Driving with an alcoholic beverage in your vehicle can lead to legal complications if you're not well-versed in the specifics of Texas's open container law. Below, we provide you with a detailed breakdown, ensuring you're equipped with the necessary knowledge if faced with potential charges.
Defining The “Open Container” In Texas
First and foremost, let's understand what exactly constitutes an “open container” in the context of Texas law:
- An open container includes any bottle, can, or other forms of receptacle containing any measure of alcoholic beverage.
- It's deemed “open” if the seal is broken, it has been previously opened, or even if just a fraction of its contents have been removed.
Demystifying The “Passenger Area Of A Motor Vehicle”
The “passenger area” might seem self-explanatory, but Texas law provides a more nuanced definition. It pertains to the zones of the vehicle intended for the seating of both the driver and the passengers. However, the following areas are NOT considered part of the passenger area:
- Storage spaces such as a glove compartment, but only if it's locked.
- The trunk space of a vehicle.
- The space that functions as a back hatch for storage if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk.
The Broad Scope Of A “Public Highway”
A public highway, as defined by Texas, isn't just limited to major roads or interstates. It encapsulates:
- Any and all publicly accessible paths designed for motor vehicle travel.
- Roads, streets, interstates, or other publicly maintained ways.
- Every bit of space from one boundary to another, including the right-of-way associated with a public highway.
Circumstances Leading To An Open Container Offense
A person becomes liable for an offense if:
- They knowingly possess an open container within the passenger area.
- The vehicle is present on a public highway.
- It's crucial to remember that this holds true if the vehicle is actively moving, stationary, or even parked. An interesting facet of the law is that if you are found with multiple open containers during a single incident, it still is treated as one singular offense.
Exceptions To The Rule
While the law is stringent, there are certain exceptions:
- Being a passenger in vehicles predominantly used for ferrying people for compensation, such as taxis, buses, or limousines.
- Occupying the living quarters of specific motorized vehicles. This includes motor homes, self-contained campers, or recreational vehicles.
Consequences And Ramifications
The legal repercussions of this offense are significant:
- The offense is classified as a Class C misdemeanor in Texas.
Procedures After Being Charged
The process that unfolds after a charge is levied is also defined by the law:
- A peace officer can issue a citation and notice to appear in court, rather than making an immediate arrest.
- The notice will outline the details of the offense, and if the individual promises in writing to appear in court, they can be released on the spot.
Specific Defenses Based On The Texas Open Container Statute
You Were A Passenger In A Vehicle Designed For Commercial Transport
The statute clearly states that passengers in vehicles primarily used for the transportation of people for compensation are not subject to the open container law. This could include:
If you were merely a passenger in one of these types of vehicles, you could have a strong defense against the charges.
You Were In The Living Quarters Of A Recreational Vehicle
The statute also exempts individuals who are in the living quarters of certain types of motorized vehicles:
- Motorized house coaches
- Self-contained campers
- Motor homes
- Recreational vehicles
If you were in such a living quarter at the time of the offense, this can serve as a valid defense.
The Container Was In An Exempt Area Of The Vehicle
According to the statute, an open container must be in the “passenger area” to qualify for the offense. If the container was securely stored in an area of the vehicle that is exempted – like a trunk space – its location will nullify an officer’s ability to hold a motorist accountable for its presence.
The Vehicle Was Not On A Public Highway
The statute applies to vehicles located on a public highway. If you can prove that your vehicle was on private property or in an area not designated for public motor vehicle use, you could negate the charges.
Lack Of Knowledge
The statute specifies that the person must “knowingly” possess the open container in the vehicle's passenger area for it to be an offense. If you can demonstrate that you were unaware of the open container's presence, this could also serve as a defense.
Multiple Open Containers Treated As Single Offense
While not exactly a defense, it's important to note that possession of multiple open containers during a single incident is treated as a single offense under the statute. This means that you won't face escalated charges for having more than one open container.
Given the intricacies of the law, and the potential defenses that can be mounted, it's essential to consult with a Texas criminal defense law firm with experience in handling such cases. Seeking legal guidance tailored to your specific circumstances from a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will give you a genuine chance of successfully defending against these charges.
Frequently Asked Questions About Texas Open Container Charges
What Is An “Open Container” According To The Statute?
This term refers to receptacles (such as bottles or cans) that contain alcohol, have been opened/have had their seals broken, or have had some of their contents removed.
What Is Considered The “Passenger Area Of A Motor Vehicle”?
This term refers to the part of a vehicle intended for seating the driver and passengers. It does not include locked glove compartments, the vehicle’s trunk, or the part of the vehicle that functions as a back hatch if the vehicle is not outfitted with a trunk.
Are There Any Exceptions To This Rule?
Yes, exceptions exist. If, at the time of the offense, the person was a passenger in a vehicle primarily used for transporting people for payment (like a bus, taxi, or limousine) or in the living quarters of a motorized house coach or trailer (like a camper, motor home, or RV), the rule doesn't apply.
What Is The Penalty For Violating This Statute?
Possessing an open container in a motor vehicle on a public highway is a Class C misdemeanor.
If I'm Caught With An Open Container, Will I Be Arrested?
Not necessarily. A peace officer may issue a written citation and notice to appear in court instead of taking you before a magistrate. If you promise in writing to appear in court by signing the citation, the officer will release you.
If There Are Multiple Open Containers In The Car During One Stop, Will I Be Charged Multiple Times?
No, possessing one or more open containers in a single incident is considered a single offense.
What Is The Definition Of A “Public Highway”?
A “public highway” encompasses the entire width between and immediately adjacent to the boundary lines of any public road, street, highway, interstate, or other publicly maintained way that is open for motor vehicle travel.
Skilled Help With Alleged Texas Open Container Law Violations
Facing an open container violation? Cofer & Connelly, PLLC is here for you. If you've been arrested or charged with an alcohol-related offense, your immediate actions could significantly impact your case. Our criminal defense lawyers are available and prepared to give you the timely assistance you deserve. Dial us at (512) 991-0576 or contact our open container lawyers online and secure your representation immediately.