You can’t follow a law if you don’t know about it in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s common for us to meet with clients who broke Texas’ alcohol laws but didn’t know it.
To help make sure you stay safe and know what is and isn’t legal, here are a few fast facts about Texas alcohol laws that you should know:
What Is the Legal Drinking Age in Texas?
Like all U.S. states, the Texas drinking age is 21 years of age.
One point of difference is that parents can allow their children to drink when they are in the presence of the minor. The adult must be visibly present at all times while the minor has an alcoholic drink. Sitting around drinking with their parents probably isn’t what most 18/20-year-olds would call a good time, but it’s the only legal way for them to drink in Texas.
If you drink underage and your parents aren’t watching you do it, you’re guilty of Minor in Possession or Minor in Consumption. Your first offense is a Class C misdemeanor and it carries a fine. Repeat offenders face increased penalties and a third MIP can land you in jail for up to 180 days. It’s important to speak with a qualified attorney if you’re facing this type of crime.
Open Container Laws
In Texas, you can’t have any open alcohol in a vehicle. This law covers the entire vehicle and includes if a passenger is drinking or if an open container is anywhere in the vehicle. Even if you haven’t had a single sip of the drink, it is illegal to have an open or unsealed container of alcohol in your vehicle. Everything from an open bottle of beer to an uncorked bottle of wine can lead to a charge.
At the most basic level, an open container is charged as a Class C Misdemeanor, which is the same as a traffic ticket. If you haven’t been drinking and your blood alcohol concentration is below .08%, you will be issued a ticket and a fine for each open container in the vehicle. The fine can be up to $500, but if you have multiple open containers, the cost of your ticket can quickly get very expensive.
If you are charged with a DWI and have an open container, then the charges become worse. The open container charge level of the DWI stays the same, but the minimum jail time is increased. For example, if the charge is filed as a class Class B Misdemeanor (which carries up to a $2,000 fine and a maximum jail sentence of 180 days) then you will have to serve a minimum of six days in jail even if you are granted probation.
The charge can become even further enhanced if you are charged while violating an existing DWI probation or if you have previous DWI charges that have led to a license suspension in Texas.
There are deferral programs available for certain offenders in some cases, so, again, it’s important to work with an attorney that knows the ins and outs of the Texas justice system.
Driving While Intoxicated Laws
Most people know that drunk driving in Texas is illegal, but they might not know what this means. In Texas, there are two ways to be considered a drunk driver.
The first is to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while you drive a motor vehicle. Most people don’t know that this can include being under the influence of medications, even if these medications are prescribed to you.
The second way to be considered a drunk driver in the State of Texas is to have an alcohol content of .08 grams or more for every 210 liters of breath. If you have that much alcohol in your system, it doesn’t matter if the alcohol influenced your ability to drive. You’re a drunk driver simply because you got behind the wheel, even if you drove perfectly and had your normal physical and mental facilities.
If you have a lot of alcohol in your system (.15 or more grams per 210 liters of breath), you can face enhanced penalties if you’re caught drunk driving. Repeat drunk driving offenses come with increased penalties, too. A first drunk driving offense carries a criminal penalty of up to 180 days in jail, while a third offense can land you in prison for up to 10 years. Drunk driving can result in other harsh penalties, as well as jail, including suspension of your driver’s license. Drivers under the age of 21 may face a fine and suspension of their driver’s license for driving with any alcohol in their system, regardless of how much.
Texas’ Sunday Alcohol Law
With Texas House Bill 1518, the law that affects when you can legally buy alcohol changed. The old Alcoholic Beverage Code required stores to wait until noon on Sundays to sell beer or wine. Texas’ Sunday alcohol law now makes it so that stores can sell beer or wine as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays. On weekdays, stores can sell beer and wine from 7 a.m. to midnight. On Saturday, they can sell from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.
It is still illegal to sell any liquor on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, or Christmas Day.
Even with Texas’ alcohol laws that control when it is legal to buy and sell alcohol, it is never legal to have an open container of alcohol in your vehicle or driving while intoxicated.
Where Can You Buy Alcohol in Texas?
Texas’ alcohol laws affect where you can buy alcohol and spirits. Grocery stores only sell beer and wine. They do not carry spirits. Hard liquor can only be bought from liquor stores.
Bars and private clubs can distribute wine, alcohol, and liquor during the same restricted times but if they are in larger cities they can also distribute until 2:00 a.m. on any day of the week.
Is It Legal to Drink in Public in Texas?
Officially, there are no state laws in Texas that prohibit public drinking unless you are near a school. However, some cities have made it illegal to consume alcohol in public in their central business districts. This only affects commercial areas and will never affect public drinking in residential neighborhoods.
Rather than trying to memorize which cities do and don’t have restrictions around public drinking, it’s better to use the neighborhood as a rule of thumb. If you’re at a privately-owned residence or at a park, it’s always legal to drink in public provided you are not near a school. If you’re in a downtown area filled with stores and businesses, be safe and don’t drink.
While it is sometimes legal to drink publicly in Texas, it is illegal to be publicly intoxicated. If you appear to have lost the normal use of your faculties to the point where you are a danger to yourself or others then you would be guilty of Public Intoxication. This is a Class C misdemeanor which includes a fine of up to $500.
What to Do About Texas Alcohol Laws
Your best bet is to comply with Texas’ alcohol laws. Ultimately, these laws are for your safety and for the good of all of us. However, if you find yourself charged with an alcohol-related offense in the State of Texas, it’s always best to work with a qualified attorney. They can help you navigate the complicated court system to obtain the best result possible. Alcohol laws in Texas can cost you money, time, and most importantly your freedom.