Court Procedures

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COURT PROCEDURES

COURT APPEARANCES  

The law requires you to appear in Court on your case.  Please note: A PHONE CALL IS NOT AN APPEARANCE.

If you were issued a citation, you have twenty (20) working days from the date of the citation to contact the court.  Please be aware that the court will not have your citation immediately after you receive it, as there are data entry delays.  If you request a continuance, the court will notify you of your new appearance date.  You or your attorney may appear 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. See the section on juveniles below**

The first appearance is to determine your plea.  If you waive a jury trial and plead guilty or nolo contendere (no contest), you may talk to the Judge about any extenuating circumstances you wish to be considered when setting your fine.  However, the Judge is not required to reduce your fine.  Before pleading guilty or no contest you will want to read the section on pleas.  You may pay your fine by mail.  To do so you must include your written plea of guilty or no contest and a check or money order for the full fine amount.  The Court must receive your payment and written plea within 20 business days after your citation was issued.  If you plead not guilty the Court must receive your plea, in writing by mail or in person, along with the indication whether you want a trial by judge or a trial by jury.  Your case will then be set for trial and you will be notified of your court date.

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PLEAS

Under our American system of justice all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.  On a plea of not guilty a formal trial is held.  The State is required to prove guilt of the offense charged in the complaint "beyond a reasonable doubt" before a defendant can be found guilty by a judge or jury.

If you plead guilty or no contest, in open court, you should be prepared to pay the fine.  You should contact the Court regarding the fine amount due and how to make payment.

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    THE TRIAL

    A trial in Municipal Court is a fair, impartial, and public trial as in any other court.  Under Texas Law you can be brought to trial only after a sworn complaint is filed against you.  A complaint is the document which alleges what act you are supposed to have committed and that the act is unlawful.  You can be tried only for what is alleged in the complaint. 

    You have the following rights in court:

    1. The right to inspect the complaint before a trial and have it read to you at the trial;
    2. The right to have your case tried before a jury;
    3. The right to hear all testimony introduced against you;
    4. The right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you;
    5. The right to testify in your behalf;
    6. The right not to testify.  If you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot 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.  The request for a subpoena should be in writing, at the time you enter your plea, and include all names and addresses.

    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 a juror will not be fair, impartial or unbiased, you may ask the judge to excuse the juror.  The judge will decide whether or not to grant your request.  In each jury trial, you are also permitted to strike three members of the jury panel for any reason you choose, except an illegal reason such as a person's race.

     

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    PRESENTING THE CASE

    As in all criminal trials, the State will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you.  After prosecution witnesses have finished testifying, you have the right to cross-examine.  In other words, you may ask the witnesses questions about their testimony or any other facts relevant to the case.  You cannot, however, argue with the witness.  Your cross-examination of the witness must be in the form of questions only.  You may not tell your version of the incident at this time.  You will have an opportunity to do so later in the trial.

    After the Prosecution has presented its case, you may present your case.  You have the right to call any witness who knows anything about the incident.  The State has the right to cross-examine any witness you call.

    If you desire, you may testify in your own behalf.  As a Defendant, however, you cannot 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 tell the Court why you think you are not guilty of the offense charged.  The State has the right to present the first and last arguments.  The closing argument can be based only on the testimony presented during the trial.

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    CONTINUANCES

    If you need a continuance for your trial, you must put the request in writing and submit it to the Court with your reasons 7 days before a jury trial or 2 days before a bench trial.  The Judge will make the decision whether or not to grant the continuance.

    You may request a continuance for the following reasons:

    1. A religious holy day where the tenets of your religious organization prohibit a member from participating in secular activities such as court proceedings (an affidavit stating this information must be filed with the Court); or
    2. You feel it is necessary for justice in your case.

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    JUDGMENT/VERDICT

    If the case is tried by the Judge, the Judge's decision is called a Judgment.  If the case is tried by a Jury, the Jury's decision is called a Verdict.

    In determining the Defendant's guilt or innocence, the judge or jury can consider only the testimony of the witnesses and any evidence admitted during the trial.  If you are found guilty, by either the judge or jury, the penalty will be announced at that time.  Unless you plan to appeal your case, you should be prepared to pay the fine at this time.

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    FINES

    The amount of fine the Court assesses is determined only by the facts and circumstances of the case.  Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine even if you are guilty. On the other hand, aggravating circumstances may increase the fine.

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    COURT COSTS

    In addition to a fine, court costs mandated by state law will be charged.  The costs are different depending on the offense.  You need to check with the court for the amount that will be assessed to the violation for which you are charged.  If you request a 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, an additional $3 jury fee is assessed.  If a warrant was served or processed by a peace officer, an additional $50 fee is also assessed.

     

    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 deferred disposition. If you are found not guilty, court costs cannot be assessed.

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    APPEAL

    If you are found guilty and are not satisfied with the judgment of the Court, you may have the right to appeal your case.  To appeal, unless you are in a Court of record, you must file a two surety misdemeanor appeal bond with the Municipal Court within 10 days of the judgment.

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    DRIVING SAFETY COURSES

    If you are charged with a traffic offense, you may be eligible to take a driving safety course (DSC) to dismiss the charge.

    To be eligible for this option, you must meet the following conditions:

    • have a valid Texas Drivers License, or if part of an active military family with valid drivers license from another state.
    • have NOT requested and or have taken a driving safety course or motorcycle operator course for a traffic offense within the last 12 months of the infraction date for any other court.
    • are NOT currently taking the course for another traffic violation, in any other court.
    • are NOT currently holding a Commercial Drivers License (CDL).
    • have NOT been issued a citation for one of the following offenses:
    • Failure to Give Information at Accident Scene
    • Leaving Scene of Accident
    • Fleeing or Attempting to Elude a Police Officer
    • Reckless Driving
    • Passing a School Bus
    • An offense in a construction maintenance zone when workers are present
    • Speeding 25 mph or more over limit

    At the time of the request**, you must do the following:

    1. Present a valid driver's licenses (CDL holders are not eligible)
    2. Present proof of financial responsibility (liability insurance);
    3. Plead guilty or nolo contendere

    Information regarding the driving safety course may also be found on the back of your copy of the citation.   If you were operating a motorcycle, you must take a motorcycle operator's training course.

    Once approved, the case will be postponed for 90 days to allow you time to complete the course.  You must attend a driving safety course that has been approved by the Texas Education Agency or a motorcycle operator's course approved by the Department of Public Safety.

    **The request to apply for defensive driving may be made in person at the court window or by sending the   information by mail:

    • a copy of the driver's license and current insurance of the defendant.
    • Payment of Court Costs*
      • Moving Violation: $109.00
      • School Zone Moving Violation:  $134.00

    If you do not take the course in the time required and/or fail to present the court with a certificate of completion within 90 days, the court will notify you to return to court and show cause as to why you failed to show proof of completion.  If you have a good reason why you were unable to present your proof within the time required, the judge may, but is not required to, grant you an extension.  Your failure to be present at that hearing will result in a warrant for your arrest being issued.  An additional charge may also be filed.  For more information regarding Defensive Driving, please click here.  

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    JUVENILES

    The Municipal court has jurisdiction over juveniles, 16 years or younger, charged with Class "C" misdemeanor offenses except public intoxication.  All juveniles are required to appear in open court for all proceedings in their cases.  The parent or guardian of any juvenile charged in Municipal Court is required to be present in court with their child.  Juveniles who fail to appear or who fail to pay their fine will be reported to the Department of Public Safety.  The Department of Public Safety will suspend their driver's license.  If they do not have a driver's license, they will not be able to obtain one until they appear in Court to dispose of their fine.  For more information regarding Juveniles, please click here

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    ROLE OF THE JUDGE

    The judge ensures that all persons before the court are treated fairly and equally.  The judge ensures that the orders of the court are followed.  The judge presides over all trials and hearings on other matters.  The judge sets the terms and conditions of deferred dispositions and other sentences.

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    ROLE OF THE CLERKS

    The clerks are the administrators of the court.  They carry out the orders of the judge and the procedures and policies mandated by the state or other authority.  They may not change the court’s orders or make exceptions to the court’s rules for any individual.  They may not give you legal advice or interpret the law for you.  They may not tell you what they think the judge or the prosecutor will do in your case.  They can answer factual questions regarding the information they have.

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    ROLE OF THE PROSECUTOR

    The prosecutor is the attorney for the City and the State.  The prosecutor is not your attorney.  You have the right not to speak to the prosecutor.  If you choose to speak to the prosecutor, be aware that any statement you make may be used against you should you choose to proceed to trial.

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