About the Trial
All individuals who request a Jury or Bench Trial (by Judge) are required to attend a pre-trial conference. At the pre-trial conference, you will meet with a Prosecutor who may explain various sentencing options including Deferred Disposition and Driving Safety Course (DSC).
You do not have to explain your side to the Prosecutor if you do not want to, as you have the right to remain silent and not say anything at all. If you choose to speak to the Prosecutor, anything that you say may be used against you. In addition, you do not have to accept a plea offer if one is offered as you have a right to a trial.
A trial in Municipal Court is a fair, impartial and public trial as in any other court. Under Texas law, you may be brought to trial only after a sworn complaint is filed against you.
A complaint is a document that alleges the act you are charged with committing and that the act is unlawful. You may be tried only for what is alleged in the complaint. You have the following rights in court:
- The right to have notice of the complaint no later than the day before the proceedings;
- The right to inspect the complaint before trial, and have it read to you at the trial;
- The right to have your case tried before a jury, if you so desire;
- The right to hear all testimony introduced against you;
- The right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you;
- The right to testify on your behalf;
- The right not to testify, if you so desire. If you choose not to testify, your refusal to do so may not be held against you in determining your innocence or guilt; and
- You may call witnesses to testify on 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 may be oral or in writing.
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. 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 illegal reason (such as a strike based solely upon a person's race or gender).
Presenting the Case at Trial
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 may not, 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 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 may be based only on the testimony presented during the trial.
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 may consider only the testimony of 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.
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. The maximum fine for most municipal court traffic violations is $200; for municipal court penal violations is $500; for city ordinance violations relating to fire safety, zoning, public health and sanitation is $2,000; and for other city ordinance violations $500.
In addition to a fine, state statutes require courts to collect court costs and fees from defendants convicted of fine-only offenses. For the purpose of collecting court costs, Section 133.101 of the Local Government Code defines conviction in a case if:
A judgment, a sentence, or both a judgment and a sentence are imposed on the defendant;
The person receives community supervision, deferred adjudication, or deferred disposition; or
The court defers final disposition of the case or imposition of the judgment and sentence.
Court costs and fees vary depending on the offense with which you are charged. You can contact the court to learn 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 you fail to appear at your jury trial, you may be assessed the cost of impaneling the jury. If a warrant was served or processed by a peace officer, an additional $50 fee is also assessed.
Court costs and fees 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 (DSC), or if your case is deferred and you are placed on probation. Court costs and fees are due at the time your case is placed on deferred for DSC or Probation.
Time Payment Fee
A $15.00 time payment fee will be added to any part of a fine, court cost or restitution paid on or after the 31st day after the date on which a judgment is entered assessing the fine, court costs, or restitution, pursuant to Sec. 133.103 of the Local Government Code.
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 a judgment of guilt has been rendered against you. The judge may grant a new trial if the judge is persuaded that justice has not been done in the trial of your case. Only one new trial may be granted for each offense.
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 if you appeared in open court. If you pled guilty or nolo contendere, waived your right to a jury trial and requested the amount of fine and appeal bond, put the request in writing and mailed or delivered it to the court before your initial court appearance date, you have up to 31 days from the time you received a certified notice from the court to pay the fine or file an appeal bond with the municipal court. Defendants in courts of record should check with the court for rules regarding appeals.