We all know it is illegal to drive while intoxicated. But what about driving with open containers?
Are you allowed to drink at a drive-in movie theater? What if you’re camping? Or if you’re just carrying an opened bottle from one place to another?
Texas law says:
“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.”
A violation is a Class C misdemeanor.
An “open container” means any container for an alcoholic beverage that is open, has a broken seal, or the contents are partially removed.
A “public highway” includes any roads or other publicly available passage for motor vehicle travel.
The “passenger area” of the vehicle does not include:
the trunk of your car;
“the area behind the last upright seat of the vehicle, if the vehicle does not have a trunk”; or
locking glove compartments.
Don’t hit the road with an open can or bottle in the car (not even if you put the lid or cork back on) unless you can stow it in the trunk.
And there is one more exception: You won’t break the open container law if you are a passenger in a “bus, taxicab, or limousine” or another vehicle “used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation.”
Getting a Will might be on your to-do list, but do you know why it’s important?
Here are the top three reasons.
Reason 1: A Will protects your family
If you have kids younger than 18 years old, a Will lets you designate a guardian to care for them if you pass away, like a close family member. It’s like owning a fire extinguisher: almost no one will ever use it, but everyone with kids should have one.
A Will also lets you pick your heirs. Without a Will, state law will control how your property is distributed, which may not be the best result for your family. But if you have a Will, you can make a plan that fits your family best. Maybe you would like your grandchildren to spend their inheritance on college. Maybe you would like family heirlooms to go to the right place. Having a Will lets you make those decisions.
Reason 2: A Will gives you peace of mind
Once you have a Will, it will be there unless you change it. Once you write a Will, you will have the comfort of knowing it is there to protect your family.
If you have children or grandchildren, then the time for a Will is now. Give yourself the peace of mind of knowing the matter is handled.
Reason 3: Wills save families’ money
When a person passes without a Will, the legal process for settling an estate becomes longer and more complication. Therefore, it costs more money to settle an estate where there is no Will.
In contrast, having a Will makes the probate process much less expensive, and makes it faster, which eases a family’s burden. An ounce of planning on the front end saves a lot of trouble on the back end.
What are your child visitation rights during Christmas?
Ask a Lawyer!
Christmas is around the corner. Are you a noncustodial parent, with a court order that covers when you get custody during the holidays? Is it confusing? DLM can help.
The Standard Possession Order
The most common custody order that judges use is the “standard possession order.” The language in the standard possession order can be difficult to understand.
To figure out when you get custody of your child, you will need to compare your court order and your child’s school calendar. For Christmas in 2015, most non-custodial parents have parenting time beginning at noonon December 28th, and ending at 6:00 PM on the day before the school resumes after the school’s Christmas vacation.
You and the other parent can agree to different custody times – that is often important for making family plans work. But if you are not able to agree with the other parent regarding parenting time then it is very important that you follow the court order as it is written. For example, if your court order says that you need to pick up your child from the other parent’s residence at 6:00 PM then you should go to his or her house at 6:00 PM and attempt to pick up your child.
Questions about the 2016 visitation schedule? A new free tool for co-parents to create their own calendar is located on Texas Law Help. This interactive tool can create a specialized calendar for you.
How can you enforce your visitation order?
If you are denied you access to your child or the other parent refused to return your child, there are several legal remedies available to you.
You can file a motion for enforcement and ask the Judge to hold the other party in contempt of court and request make up visitation time.
You may also be able to get immediate relief and have your child returned to you with an emergency order.
You can also call the police and make an interference with child custody criminal complaint. But be aware how involving the police may impact your child if he or she witnesses this. In most situations, it makes sense to meet with a lawyer before involving the police in a private custody dispute.
Joe – he could be your family or a friend – calls you from jail. The police arrested him, saying he was driving while intoxicated, and he needs help. The situation is all too common.
What do you?
First, he needs help to get out of jail.
Second, he needs to understand what he’s facing.
Finally, he needs a lawyer to defend his rights.
How do you get Joe out of jail?
If you get arrested, you will go to jail. Once a person goes to jail, they don’t come out without a judge’s permission.
To get Joe out of jail, a judge needs to set a “bond” – either a personal recognizance (PR) bond, cash bond, or surety bond. A cash or security bond will cost Joe money, likely several hundred dollars.
A PR bond is the least expensive option, and a lawyer can maximize the chances that a judge will grant one.
What are the potential consequences of a DWI?
It is illegal to operate a vehicle while intoxicated – meaning either a 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration, or any combination of drugs/alcohol that takes away the driver’s mental or physical faculties. A driver younger than 21 cannot have any detectable amount of alcohol in their system.
A first-time DWI is typically a class B misdemeanor, and the punishment can be 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. The penalties are higher for a second or third offense; if the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.15 percent; if there was a minor in the car; or if anyone was injured in an accident – penalties can be as high as 2-20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine in the most serious situations.
If a driver is convicted, his driver’s license can be suspendedfor up to one year for a first offense, or up to two years for a second or enhanced offense (DPS can also suspend a license if a driver fails or refuses a roadside breath or blood test, but an attorney can help if hired quickly). Being convicted for DWI will also bring three years of surcharges from the Texas Department of Public Safety – ranging from $1,000 – $2,000 a year.
Finally, a conviction (or even probation) cannot be removed from the driver’s conviction history, and may discourage employers or landlords from hiring and/or renting to him in the future. The only way to keep it off your record entirely is to beat the charge
How can Joe defend his rights?
The best way to defend your rights is to hire an attorney. The criminal justice system is stacked against a person accused of a crime. After an arrest, a person deserves to have an experienced attorney by their side to see them through the storm.
An attorney can help a driver avoid having his license automatically suspended for failing or refusing a roadside alcohol test.
An attorney can help the driver be found not guilty – by examining the evidence, cross examining police, and persuading the judge and jury.
And if a driver is convicted, then an attorney can make sure the punishment is as light as possible.
The criminal justice system can be scary, but after an arrest, there is no time to delay. Anyone facing jail and fines needs a dedicated advocate to help them.
Has your landlord changed the locks on your apartment? If so, there are some key things to know.
A lockout is not an eviction.
It is important to remember that a landlord can only legally evict you from an apartment with a court order. The law allows a landlord to change a tenant’s locks in limited situations, but also puts several restrictions on the landlord to make sure a tenant will only be locked out for a short time.
The purpose of the law is to help landlords make tenants meet them face-to-face, nothing more.
The landlord must give you a written notice several days before changing your locks.
The law requires a landlord to give a tenant a written warning before changing the locks. The warning must give three days’ notice if it is hand-delivered or posted, and five days’ notice if mailed. If the landlord doesn’t give that notice before changing the locks, he has broken the law.
The landlord must give you a new key quickly.
After the landlord changes a tenants’ locks, he has to put a written notice on the outside of your door that says:
Where the tenant can go 24 hours a day to obtain the new key; or give you a telephone number the tenant can call 24 hours a day to have the new key delivered promptly;
The amount of rent and other charges the tenant owes; and
Tell the tenant that the landlord must provide the tenant with a new key at any hour whether or not the tenant pays the rent owed.
What if my landlord does not give me a key?
You have a right to get back into your apartment. If your landlord will not give you a new key, you should go to your local Justice of the Peace and ask for a “writ of reentry.”
If the judge issues a writ of reentry, a constable will deliver the writ to the landlord, ordering him to give you a new key. The landlord is supposed to act right away after getting the writ; if he doesn’t, the judge can hold him in contempt, and the constable may use “reasonable force” to get back into the apartment.
You can sue a landlord for breaking the law.
If a landlord locks you out of your apartment, but doesn’t give you the proper written notice and/or does not give you a new key, you can sue him for damages. You should consult with an attorney to learn about your options
Did you park your car and come back later to find it gone? Towed? Were you stuck with towing and storage fees?
There are strict laws about towing – both when it can happen, and how much a tow company can charge you. If a tow company breaks the law, you can fight back.
Was your car towed illegally?
When you leave your car in a parking garage or a parking lot, the owner cannot legally have your car towed unless they give you fair notice beforehand.
Notice can come in one of three forms:
The owner can ask you directly to move your car.
The owner can put notice on your windshield asking you to move your car.
With a posted signed which meet very specific criteria – the international towing symbol, a statement with who is allowed to park in the lot, and a phone number a car owner can use to find their car 24 hours a day.
Without proper notice, a tow may be illegal, and you can bring a legal challenge later.
Where can you find a towed car?
When your car is towed, it can only be taken to a licensed vehicle storage facility. If the lot owner has signs posted, the signs should have a phone number you can call to locate your car.
If there aren’t any signs, you can find your car by calling the local police department – storage facilities must report new cars to the local police. Storage facilities must also mail a written notice to the registered owner within 5 days of receiving the car, which is useful if the owner was not the driver.
If the owner doesn’t claim the car within 30 days, the storage facility can auction it.
What can you be charged?
The City of Austin strictly defines the fees that a driver can be charged when their car is towed.
First, in Austin, if you find the driver while he is hitching up your car, you’re entitled to ask him to release your car, without charge. If you catch the driver after your car is hitched up but before he leaves, then you are still entitled to have your car to be put down but the driver can charge you $50.
If the car gets to a vehicle storage facility, the facility doesn’t have to release it until you pay the applicable fee, which will be close to $200 almost immediately — $150 for the tow, a $20 impound fee, and a $20 storage fee. Fees in facilities outside of Austin might be higher.
If a storage facility charges more than what the law permits, then it has broken the law, and you can bring a legal challenge later.
What can you do about an illegal tow?
If you want to challenge a tow you believe was illegal, you have three options.
First, both tow companies and vehicle storage facilities are regulated by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. If you believe they broke the law, you can file a complaint with the agency. You can also file complaints with the Austin Police Department.
Second, the law allows an expedited legal proceeding – you can request a tow hearing from a Justice of the Peace. You must visit the court to request a hearing within 14 days of the tow, and the court is supposed to schedule a hearing within 21 days of your request. If the Justice of the Peace agrees the tow was unlawful, then they can order the tow company to reimburse your charges.
Finally, you can also sue a towing company, parking facility, or storage facility that breaks the law. You can get extra money damages if you sue and can show they knew they were breaking the law. You should consult a local attorney or legal aid office about your options.