Prepared and Distributed by the Texas Municipal Courts Association and Texas Municipal Courts Education Center
TMCEC is funded by a grant from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Address: 24980 HWY 64E
CANTON, TEXAS 75103
This pamphlet is designed to provide information about court proceedings. It is not a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney. If you have questions about your best course of action, what plea you should enter, your rights, or the consequence of a conviction of the offense for which you are charged, you should contact an attorney. Neither the clerk, judge, nor prosecutor can give you legal advice.
Under our American system of justice, all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. The State must prove you guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt" of the offense with which you are charged. Every criminal defendant has the right to remain silent and not testify (without consequences). You have the right to retain an attorney and have them try your case or answer your questions. Since offenses in this court are punishable only by fine and not by incarceration, you do not have the right to appointed counsel.
You have the right to a jury trial. You may waive a jury trial and have a trial before the judge, commonly called a bench trial. At trial you have many rights including:
1) The right to have notice of the complaint not later than the day before any proceedings in the prosecution;
2) The right to inspect the complaint before trial, and have it read to you at the trial;
3) The right to hear all testimony introduced against you;
4) The right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you;
5) The right to testify in your own behalf;
6) The right not to testify (Your refusal to do so may not be held against you in determining your innocence or guilt.); and
7) You may call witnesses to testify in your behalf at the trial, and have the court issue a subpoena (a court order) to any witnesses to ensure their appearance at the trial.
In addition to your rights, you have some legal responsibilities. The law requires you to make an appearance on your case. Your appearance date is noted on your citation, bond, summons, or release papers. You or your attorney may appear in person in open court, by mail, or you may deliver your plea in person to the court. (Juveniles have a separate set of rules for their appearance. Please read the Juveniles Pamphlet).
Your first appearance is to determine your plea. If you waive a jury trial and plead guilty or no contest, you may present extenuating circumstances for the judge to consider when setting your fine. If you plead not guilty and do not waive a jury trial, you will be set for a jury trial. You may waive a jury trial and be set for trial before the court. When you make your appearance by mail, the court must receive your plea before your scheduled appearance date. If you plead not guilty, the court will notify you of the date of your trial.
If you plead guilty or no contest, you must also waive your right to a jury trial. You may request the amount of fine and appeal bond in writing and mail or deliver it to the court before your appearance date. You then have up to 31 days from the time you received a notice from the court to pay the fine or file an appeal bond with the municipal court.
Unless your case is one listed on the back of this pamphlet, you must enter one of these three pleas:
Plea of Not Guilty – A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt and require the State to prove the charge. A plea of not guilty does not waive any of your rights. A plea of not guilty does not prevent a plea of guilty or no contest at a later time.
Plea of Guilty – By a plea of guilty, you admit that the act is prohibited by law and that you committed the act charged.
Plea of Nolo Contendere (no contest) – A plea of nolo contendere means that you do not contest the State's charge against you.
If you plead guilty or nolo contendere, you will be found guilty and should be prepared to pay the fine. A plea of guilty waives all of the trial rights discussed earlier You should contact the court regarding how to make payments if you are unable to pay the entire fine and cost.
Fines, Cost and Fees
The amount of fine the court assesses is determined by the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine, and aggravating circumstances may increase the fine. The maximum fine amount allowed for most traffic violations is $200; for most other violations of State law and city ordinances--$500; for health and safety city ordinance violations—$2,000. The court may set the fine between $1 and the maximum.
Courts are required by State law to collect court costs and fees for the State of Texas. If you go to trial, you may have to also pay the costs of overtime paid to a peace officer spent testifying in the trial. If you request a jury trial, a $3 jury fee is assessed. If a warrant was served or processed, a $50 warrant fee is also assessed. If you do not pay the whole fine and costs within 30 days of the court’s judgment, you must pay a $25 time payment fee. An Omni fee of $30 will be assessed when warrants are issued and your driver’s license will be flagged for non-payment of fines.
Court costs are assessed if you are found guilty at trial, if you plead guilty or nolo contendere, if your case is deferred for a driving safety course, or if your case is deferred and you are placed on probation. If you are found not guilty court costs are not assessed.
Judge’s Ability to Dismiss
The municipal judge is responsible for conducting a fair, impartial, and public trial. The case against you is brought by the State of Texas through the prosecutor, not the court. The judge, therefore, may not dismiss a case without the prosecutor having the right to try the case.
There are several exceptions to this rule, they are contained later in this pamphlet and include driver’s safety courses, deferred disposition, inspection, registration, some driver’s license violations, and no insurance violations.
If you need a continuance, you must put the request with your reason in writing and submit it to the court prior to trial. The judge decides whether or not to grant the continuances. Failure to submit the request in writing may cause your request not to be considered.
If you choose to have the case tried before a jury, you have the right to question jurors about their qualifications to hear your case. If you think that a juror will not be fair, impartial, or unbiased, you may ask the judge to excuse the juror. You are also permitted to strike three members of the jury panel for any reason you choose, except a strike based solely upon race or gender.
As in all criminal trials, the State presents its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you.
You then have the right to cross-examine. You may not, however, argue with the witness. Cross-examination must be in the form of questions.
After the prosecution, you may present your case. You have the right to call witnesses who know anything about the incident. The State has the right to cross-examine the witnesses that you call.
If you so desire, you may testify in your own behalf, but as a defendant, you may not be compelled to testify. It is your choice, and your silence cannot be used against you. If you do testify, the State has the right to cross-examine you.
After all testimony is concluded, both sides can make a closing argument. This is your opportunity to summarize the evidence, present your theory of the case, argue why the state has failed to meet its burden of proof, and make other arguments allowed by law. The State has the right to present the first and last arguments.
In determining the defendant's guilt or innocence, the judge or jury may consider only the testimony of witnesses and evidence admitted during the trial.
You may elect the jury to assess the fine if you are convicted. If you do not file an election before the trial begins, the judge will assess the fine. You should be prepared to pay the fine or post an appeal bond if you are convicted.
Driver’s Safety Courses
If you are charged with a traffic offense, you may be eligible to ask the judge to take a driving safety course to dismiss the charge. The request must be made on or before the appearance date on the citation. It must be made in person, by counsel, or by certified mail. (If you are under age 17, you must appear in open court with a parent or guardian to make the request.) If you were operating a motorcycle, you must take a motorcycle operator’s training course. If you are charged with allowing a child to ride unsecured in a seat belt or a child passenger safety seat system, you must take a special driving safety course that has four hours training on child passenger safety seat systems. At the time of the request, you must do the following:
1) Plead guilty or no contest;
2) Pay court costs;
3) Pay a $10 administrative fee, if required;
4) Present proof of financial responsibility (insurance); and
5) Present a Texas driver’s license or permit, or present proof of being a member of the United States military forces serving on active duty;
To be eligible, you:
1) Cannot have taken a driving safety course or motorcycle operator course for a traffic offense within the last 12 months from the date of the current offense;
2) Cannot be currently taking the course for another traffic violation;
3) Cannot be the holder of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or held a CDL at the time of the offense; and
4) Have not committed one of the following offenses:
- Failure to Give Information at Accident Scene;
- Leaving Scene of Accident;
- Passing a School Bus;
- A serious traffic violation, which applies to commercial motor vehicle operators;
- An offense in a construction maintenance work zone when workers are present; or
- Speeding 25 mph or more over limit.
The case will be deferred for 90 days.
During that time you must:
1) Complete a driving safety course approved by the Texas Education Agency or a motorcycle operator’s course approved by the Department of Public Safety and present the completion certificate to the court.
2) Present a certified copy of your driving record from the Department of Public Safety that shows that you have not had a driving safety course within the preceding 12 months from the date of the current offense; and
3) Swear to an affidavit that you were not taking a driving safety course at the time of the request for the current offense and that you have not taken one that is not shown on your driving record.
If you do not present the required documents in time, the court will notify you to return to court and explain why you failed. The judge may, but is not required to, allow you to file the proper papers at that time. Your failure to be present at that hearing will result in a conviction, a fine being assessed, and a warrant for your arrest being issued.
The judge may, in its sole discretion, defer disposition on most cases. The holder of a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is not eligible for deferred disposition on moving traffic violations. Cost must be paid when the court grants the deferred. If you complete the required terms, the case is dismissed, and the court may impose a special expense not to exceed the fine. The deferred period may not exceed 180 days.
Expired vehicle inspection cases must be dismissed with a payment of a $20 fee if the inspection was expired less than 60 days and the defect is remedied within 20 days of the citation. If it was expired more than 60 days the court may dismiss.
The court may dismiss an expired registration charge if the defect is remedied within 20 days of citation, the late registration fee is paid to the county, and a $20fee is paid.
Failure to Display DL, Expired DL
Failure to display a driver’s license (DL) offenses must be dismissed without any fee if you present to the court evidence of a DL valid at the time of the offense.
Expired DL cases may be dismissed if remedied within 20 days of citation. The court may charge a $20 fee.
Failure to Provide Financial Responsibility (No Insurance)
Failure to provide financial responsibility (no insurance) offenses must be dismissed without a fee if you present evidence of financial responsibility (insurance) valid at the time of the offense to the court, and the court verifies the coverage.
Appeal and New Trial
If you are found guilty, and are not satisfied with the judgment of the court, you have the right to appeal your case. To appeal you must file an appeal bond with the municipal court within 10 days of the judgment. The court must set the appeal bond amount at least twice the amount of the fine and costs. For appearance by mail, look at the section Appearance for the special rules for appealing pleas made by mail. Defendants in courts of record should check with the court for rules regarding appeals.
If you are found guilty, you may make an oral or written motion to the court for a new trial. The motion must be made within one day after the court’s rendering a judgment of guilt. The judge may grant a new trial if persuaded that justice has not been done in your case. Only one new trial may be granted. Defendants in courts of record should check with the court for rules regarding new trials