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, TX. 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 refuse to testify (without consequences). You have the right to retain counsel 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. Although your parents or guardians must appear with you, they may not act as your counsel (or attorney) unless they are in fact licensed attorneys.
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, or release papers.
You and a parent or guardian must appear in person in open court. You are not allowed to appear by mail or by delivery of a plea or fine to the clerk’s office. You have an absolute right to be accompanied by your retained attorney. Your parent or guardian, however, must still appear with you even if your attorney accompanies you to court. You must appear in open court with a parent or guardian even if your case is one in which there is a defense to the prosecution or is a case in which the judge will dismiss upon remedying a defect. See the back of the Adult Court Procedure pamphlet for information on those types of offenses.
Your first appearance is to determine your plea. If you waive a jury trial and plead guilty or nolo contendere, you may present extenuating circumstances for the judge to consider when determining your sentence and setting your fine. If you plead not guilty, the court will schedule a jury trial. You may waive a jury trial and request a trial before the court.
If you enter a plea of guilty or no contest, you must also waive your right to a jury trial. Be prepared to pay the fine or file an appeal bond with the court.
Unless your case is one listed on the back of the Adult Court Procedures pamphlet, you must enter one of the following three pleas. The plea must be made by the defendant charged with the offense. Parents or guardians, while they must be present, may not enter a plea on a child’s behalf.
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. If you will be unable to pay the fine and costs, you should contact the court regarding how to make payments so that you will be prepared when you make your appearance.
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 cost 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 summons was served on your parents, a $35 fee is also assessed. If you do not pay the whole fine and cost within 30 days of the court’s judgment, you must pay a $25 time payment fee
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 or the case is dismissed, court costs are not assessed.
The judge may, in its sole discretion, defer disposition on most cases. Cost must be paid when the court grants deferred. The court may also impose educational terms, different types of treatment, or other terms. If you complete the required terms, the case is dismissed, and the court may impose a special expense not to exceed the fine amount. The deferred period cannot exceed 180 days.
Discharge by Community Service
If you are unable to pay your fine and costs, you may be eligible to discharge your obligation by performing community service. This must be granted by the court. You will receive $50 credit for each 8 hours worked. Please let the judge know if you are unable to pay the fine and cost.
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. Therefore, the judge 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 on the backside of the Adult Court Procedures pamphlet and include driver’s safety courses, deferred disposition, inspection, registration, certain driver’s license violations, and no insurance violations.
If you need a continuance, you must put the request in writing with your reason for your request and submit it to the court prior to trial. The judge decides whether or not to grant the continuance. Failure to submit the request in writing may cause your request not to be considered.
If you have a jury trial or bench trial scheduled, the case proceeds the same as if you were an adult. See the Adult Court Procedures pamphlet for information on trial procedures.
Continuing Obligation to Appear
You and your parents or guardians have a duty to continue appearing in court even after you reach age 17. If you fail to appear before reaching age 17, you can be taken into custody and brought before the court. If you fail to appear, after your 17th birthday and after notification by this court, you can be charged with the offense of violation of obligation to appear and taken into custody.
Obligation to Notify Court of Address Change
You and your parents or guardians have an obligation to inform the court each time you change addresses. You must notify the court within 7 days of each change of address. This obligation continues until your case is fully resolved and all fines and costs are paid or discharged. Failure to make a proper notification may cause you and your parents or guardians to be charged with a criminal violation and taken into custody.
See Article 45.057 (h) & (i), Code of Criminal Procedure, at the end of this brochure for the complete legal text concerning your duty to appear and update your address.
Mandatory Alcohol and Tobacco Courses and Community Service
If you are found guilty of, or placed on deferred for, an alcohol offense, the court must order you to complete an alcohol awareness course. The court must also order you to complete a period of community service.
If you are found guilty of, or placed on deferred for, a tobacco offense, the court must order you to complete a tobacco awareness course.
If you fail to pay your fine and costs, or violate other orders in the court’s judgment, the court must provide an opportunity for you to explain your conduct. The court at this time may:
1) Determine that you are not in contempt;
2) Refer your case to the county juvenile court as delinquent conduct, or
3) Retain jurisdiction and find you contempt and assess a fine up to $500 and/or order the Texas Department of Public Safety to suspend or deny issuance of a driver’s license.
Failure to Pay a Fine and Turning Age 17
Even when you turn age 17, you are still obligated to discharge your responsibility to the court by paying your fine. If you do not, at age 17, the court may issue a capias pro fine warrant for your arrest.
Driver’s License Suspension
You may be denied issuance of a driver’s license or if you have a driver’s license, your privilege to drive may be suspended if you fail to discharge your obligations in this court. The following is a list of behaviors that can cause you to be denied or to lose your license:
1) Failing to appear in court,
2) Failing to pay or discharge your fine and cost,
3) Failing to take and present proof of taking an alcohol or tobacco awareness course
4) Violating a court order in the court’s judgment.
Some offenses, such as the Alcoholic Beverage Code offenses, require the court upon conviction to order the Department of Public Safety to deny issuance of or to suspend your driver’s license for a period of time. This is a sanction required upon conviction.
Convictions from this court are criminal convictions. The records of this court, including all records in your case, are public and accessible to the public.
You may be entitled to an expunction of the records of a conviction in your case. Also, if you complete a deferred disposition in your case, you may file a petition in municipal court for expunction.
For a single alcohol conviction, you may petition this court for an expunction after your 21st birthday.
For tobacco convictions, you may petition this court for expunction after your 18th birthday.
For a single conviction for failure to attend school violation, you may petition this court for an expunction after your 18th birthday.
For a single conviction of any other non-traffic violation, you may petition this court for expunction after your 17th birthday.
Ask the court for proper forms for application for expunction. The cost of an expunction is a minimum of $30. If you have questions concerning the right to, need for, or consequences of expunction, please consult with a licensed attorney.
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. For information on new trials and appeals see the Adult Court Procedures pamphlet.
Article 45.057 (h) & (i), CCP
(h) A child and parent required to appear before the court have an obligation to provide the court in writing with the current address and residence of the child. The obligation does not end when the child reaches age 17. On or before the seventh day after the date the child or parent changes residence, the child or parent shall notify the court of the current address in the manner directed by the court. A violation of this subsection may result in arrest and is a Class C misdemeanor. The obligation to provide notice terminates on discharge and satisfaction of the judgment or final disposition not requiring a finding of guilt.
(i) If an appellate court accepts an appeal for a trial de novo, the child and parent shall provide the notice under Subsection (h) to the appellate court.