Being pulled over can be nerve-racking. But what if during the stop, you notice the officer's gazed fixed on something in your front passenger seat? You look over to see a bottle sitting there. Your anxiety could increase considerably. You know drinking and driving is illegal, which you weren't doing. Still, you might wonder what could happen to you for merely having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle. In such a situation, there are a couple of criminal consequences.
Having an Open Bottle of Alcohol in Your Car
Under Texas Penal Code § 49.031, just having an open container of alcohol in your car is illegal, even if you weren't drinking before or while driving.
The important thing to note about the law is that the bottle doesn't have to be open at the time of the offense. The statute is actually referred to as possession of alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle.
It states that an open container is one that:
- Is open,
- Has been open,
- Has a broken seal, or
- Has alcohol missing from it
In the example above, the alcohol was in your front passenger seat, but even if it was in the backseat where people can sit, you could be charged with a crime.
The open container law does not apply when the bottle is in a:
- Glove compartment,
- Trunk, or
- Area behind the last row of seats if the vehicle doesn't have a trunk
Other exceptions also exist, such as when the container is in the passenger area of a motor home or a limo.
Having alcohol in your car is a Class C misdemeanor. If you're convicted of the offense, you could be fined $500.
DUI Sentence Enhancement
The second thing that can happen to you if you have an open bottle of alcohol in your car is that the court can impose a lengthier minimum term of jail if you're convicted of a DWI.
Driving while intoxicated is a Class B misdemeanor. Generally, the minimum term of confinement is 72 hours. However, if you had alcohol near you at the time of the offense, the minimum term increases to 6 days. Thus, an open container doubles the amount of time the court will order you to spend in jail. The maximum sentence length remains at 180 days.
Whether you had alcohol in your car and were not intoxicated or you were allegedly drinking and driving, such conduct has serious consequences. However, you may have options to seek to avoid or minimize the penalties, and a lawyer can discuss courses of action you can take.