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Texas Open Container Laws

Ben Michael

Texas Open Container laws can get a little complicated, but in short, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. But what exactly is the definition of “an Open Container” according to the Texas law? Are there some limited circumstances where a passenger can legally drink?

Below, we cover Texas Open Container laws in detail so you can make sure you don’t get caught out. That said, if you are facing Open Container charges in Texas today, every minute counts, so call Michael & Associates now to get a free case review.

Texas Open Container Law Explained

An “open container” in Texas refers to any kind of receptacle of alcohol with a broken seal or where the contents have been partially removed, including capped but previously opened receptacles such as bottles and cans. This means that if you have a bottle of wine with a broken seal, you can be charged even if the contents haven’t been drunk. 

Additionally, Texas law defines flasks and thermoses as open containers.

Whether you’re a passenger or the driver, you can be charged with having an open container of an alcoholic beverage in any seating area of a vehicle, including the passenger seat and back seats. Open Container charges in Texas are categorized as Class C misdemeanors and—if convicted—remain on a person’s record permanently.

Note that an Open Container ticket is separate from a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) charge in Texas, though it can be used to enhance DWI charges. Having a Class C misdemeanor on your record is a serious matter with both financial and collateral consequences. Class C misdemeanors will show up on background checks, and there’s no way to get it off your record unless you get the case against you dismissed or have the charge expunged following deferred adjudication.

Open Container in the Texas Penal Code

Let’s take a look at the Open Container laws as described in the Texas Penal Code:

“A person commits an offense 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. Possession by a person of one or more open containers in a single criminal episode is a single offense.”

Texas Penal Code Sec. 49.031.

Each instance of an open container is charged as a single offense. If you are found with three open cans of beer in your vehicle, you can be fined three times.

However, it is not against the law to carry an open container in a glove compartment or similar storage container that is locked, nor is it illegal to carry an open container in the trunk of a vehicle. Where a vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, Texas Penal Code Sec. 49.031 cites it is permissible to store an open container in “the area behind the last upright seat of the vehicle…”

What About an Open Container in a Parked Car?

If you are parked on a “public highway,” it is still illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, even if the car isn’t moving and the engine is off.

The Texas Penal Code defines “public highway” as:

 “…any public road, highway, interstate, or other publicly maintained way if any part is open for public use for the purpose of motor vehicle travel.” 

In other words, you can’t be charged with violating Open Container law for opening a can of beer in your car as long as you are parked in a private driveway. If your car is parked on a public road, however, possessing any open container or previously opened but now capped container such as a bottle or a flask is against the law.

Is It Permissible for a Passenger to Drink Alcohol in a Vehicle?

It is against the law for a passenger to possess an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. If you are stopped by an officer and one of your passengers is holding an open can of beer, a flask, a bottle with a broken seal, or any other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage, both you—the driver—and the passenger can be charged with violating Open Container law.

Are There Any Circumstances Where Drinking by Passengers Is Allowed in Texas?

Under Texas law, it is not illegal to drink alcohol as a passenger in: 

  • a bus,
  • taxicab,
  • Uber
  • limousine,
  • or other vehicle that is used primarily for the transportation of people in return for compensation.

As a passenger, you can also drink in the living quarters of a motor home.

Is It Permissible to Transport a Previously Opened Bottle in Texas?

It’s not illegal to transport a previously opened bottle in your vehicle in Texas, but there are very clear rules on how you should do so to prevent running afoul of the law. You may store unsealed bottles or containers in a locked glovebox or other storage container that can be locked. You can also store previously opened containers in the trunk of your vehicle.

If your vehicle does not have a trunk, you can store it in the area behind the last upright seat of your vehicle. The bottle must be out of reach for all passengers.

Penalties for Open Container in Texas

Open Container violations are charged as Class C misdemeanors in Texas, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

However, each count of an open container in your vehicle results in a separate ticket. If you have several open containers in your vehicle, you can be fined multiple times, potentially costing you thousands of dollars.

Collateral Consequences of Open Container in Texas

Although you will not be jailed for an Open Container violation alone, it’s crucial to understand that a Class C misdemeanor is still a criminal conviction that will permanently remain on your record and show up whenever someone runs a background check on you. This can negatively impact security clearances, professional license applications, employment opportunities, and even insurance costs.

Hire an Experienced Texas DWI Lawyer to Avoid Consequences

If you are facing Open Container charges in Texas, it is vital that you fight to get them dismissed. If you don’t, you face carrying a criminal conviction on your record for the rest of your life, even if it was a one-time mistake. However, you need an experienced DWI lawyer to have a good chance of winning.

An attorney with a track record of success in DWIs can use multiple strategies to get your case dismissed or fight for the best possible outcome for you. One strategy they may use is to look at the circumstances of your traffic stop to see if the officer had reasonable suspicion to pull you over and whether they had sufficient probable cause to search your vehicle.

That said, choosing an inexperienced lawyer can result in higher costs in the long run. Give yourself the best chance of success by teaming up with the right attorney. Here at Michael & Associates, we have over four decades’ worth of experience in fighting DWIs. Don’t risk your future! Get your free case review now.

Ben Michael

Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.

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