How an Open Alcohol Container Affects a DWI Case
Being convicted for possession of an open alcohol container in the passenger area of a vehicle is essentially a traffic ticket if there are no other related charges. In Texas, it is a class C misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of as much as $500. However, an open alcohol container charge is sometimes coupled with a driving while intoxicated charge. Having an open alcohol container is an aggravating factor in a DWI case and may increase your punishment if you are convicted.
What Is an Open Container?
An open alcohol container is any receptacle holding alcohol that shows signs of being used. This includes when:
- The top is opened or has been taken off of the container;
- The seal for the container’s opening has been broken; or
- Some of the liquid has been removed from the container.
What Is the Passenger Area?
The passenger area of a vehicle is any place that is designed for people to sit, whether the driver or someone accompanying the driver. Places in the vehicle that do not qualify as the passenger area include:
- A locked glove compartment;
- The trunk; or
- The space behind the last row of seats if the vehicle does not have a trunk.
When Does the Law Apply?
The suspect must be aware that he or she possesses an open alcohol container in the vehicle in order to be guilty of the charge. The charge applies for any vehicle on a public road, even when it is stopped or not in operation.
What Are the Consequences When Added to a DWI Charge?
The penalties for a first-time DWI conviction while possessing an open alcohol container are mostly the same as with a first-time DWI conviction without aggravating conditions. Both are class B misdemeanors, and the only difference is that the minimum jail time for the aggravated charge is six days instead of 72 hours. However, having an open alcohol container can hurt someone’s DWI case in other ways:
- Presenting the open container as evidence strengthens the prosecution’s claim that the defendant had been drinking shortly before driving; and
- The court may choose the higher end of the available punishments because of the aggravating circumstance.
To lawfully stop your vehicle, a police officer must have reasonable suspicion that you are breaking the law or are a danger to yourself or others. After that, the officer must have just cause to search your vehicle for items such as an open alcohol container. A San Antonio DWI defense attorney at the Law Offices of Sam H. Lock can contest a DWI charge when an officer conducted an illegal traffic stop or vehicle search. To schedule a free consultation, call 888-726-5625.