Municipal Court Procedures
In addition to your rights, you have some legal responsibilities. The law requires you to make an appearance in your case. Your appearance date is noted on your citation, 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. When you make your appearance by mail, your plea must be postmarked by your scheduled appearance date. Juveniles have a separate set of rules for their appearance.
Your first appearance is to determine your plea. If you waive a jury trial and plead guilty or nolo contendere (no contest), you may present extenuating circumstances for the judge to consider when determining the proper judgment. However, the judge is not required to reduce your fine. If you plead not guilty, the court will schedule a pre-trial and the court will notify you of the date of your pre-trial.
Unless you are entitled to a compliance dismissal, you must enter one of the following 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 prevent a plea of guilty or no contest at a later time.
Plea of Guilty
– By a plea of guilty, you admit that you committed the criminal offense charged.
Plea of Nolo Contendere (no contest)
– A plea of nolo contendere means that you do not contest the State's charge against you.
The difference between a plea of guilty and nolo contendere is that the no contest plea may not later be used against you in a civil suit for damages. For example, in a civil suit arising from a traffic crash, a guilty plea can be used as evidence of your responsibility or fault.
If you plead guilty or nolo contendere, you will be found guilty and should be prepared to pay a fine. If you are unable to pay the entire fine and costs, you should be prepared to document and explain your financial situation.
Fines, Costs, and Fees
The amount of the fine assessed by the court is determined by the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine and driving in a construction zone with workers present or a school zone, for example, may increase the fine. Since costs vary for different offenses, check with the court for the amount of costs that will be assessed for the violation with which you are charged. If you go to trial, you may have to pay the costs of overtime paid to a peace officer spent testifying at trial. If you request a jury trial and are convicted, 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 31 days of the court's judgment, you must pay an additional $25 time payment fee.
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, including deferred disposition, driving safety courses, and compliance dismissals.
At Pre-trial Hearing
A pre-trial is a meeting between the defendant and the city prosecutor and typically held every other month. You will be notified by our office when these dates are set.
Article 28.01, C.C.P., governs pretrial matters in municipal court. Article 28.01 provides that the court may set the case for a pretrial hearing before the case is set for a trial on the merits. The court may direct the prosecutor and the defendant and his or her attorney of record to appear. The defendant must be present at a pretrial proceeding. In municipal courts, pretrial hearings may be held on matters regarding any pleadings of the defendant, special pleas, motions to quash, motions for continuance, motions to suppress, motions for change of venue, discovery, entrapment, and motions for the appointment of an interpreter.
Under Texas law, you may be brought to trial only after a sworn complaint has been filed against you. You may be tried only for what is alleged in the complaint. You have the following rights in court:
The right to call witnesses to testify in your behalf.
The right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you.
The right to have your case heard before a jury if you so desire.
The right to hear all testimony introduced against you.
The right to not testify.
The right to testify in your own behalf.
The right to inspect the complaint before trial, and have it read to you at the trial.