Municipal Court Procedures
Prepared and Distributed
Texas Municipal Courts Association
Texas Municipal Courts
The law requires that you appear in court on your case. If you were issued a
citation, your appearance date is noted on the citation. If you have been released
on bond, your appearance date is set on the bond. If you request a continuance
(read the specific section on continuances), the court will notify you of your
new appearance date. You or your attorney may appear in person in open court,
by mail or you may make an appearance in person at the court facility (Juveniles
have a separate set of rules for their appearance. Please read the specific
section on juveniles in this pamphlet).
Your 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 extenuating circumstances that you want the judge to consider when setting
your fine, but the judge is not required to reduce your fine. Before pleading
guilty or no contest you may want to read the section on plea. If you plead
not guilty, the court will schedule a jury trial unless you waive that right.
If you do, the trial will be before the judge.
Driving Safety Courses
If you are charged with a traffic offense under the Subtitle C, Trans. Code,
you may ask the judge before the appearance date on the citation, either orally
or in writing, to take a driving safety course. If you were operating a motorcycle
and request to take a driving safety course, you must take a motorcycle operator’s
training course. At the time of the request, you must do the following:
(1) Present proof of financial responsibility (liability insurance);
(2) Plead guilty or nolo contendere; and
(3) Pay court costs and an administration fee.
Prosecution of the traffic offense will be postponed for 90 days to allow you
time to complete the course. You are required to 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.
You are eligible to request this course if you:
(1) Have not requested and taken a driving safety course for a
traffic offense within the last 12 months;
(2) Are not currently taking the course for another traffic violation;
(3) Have not committed the offense of speeding 25 mph over the speed
(4) Have not committed one of the following offenses;
(a) Failure to give information at accident scene;
(b) Leaving scene of Accident;
(c) Fleeing or attempting to elude police officer;
(d) Reckless driving;
(e) Passing a school bus; or
(f) A serious traffic violation as defined under
Chapt 522, Trans. Code, which applies to drivers with commercial
Prior to the end of the 90-day period, you must present to the court a copy
of your driving record from the Department of Public Safety. You are required
to take the course within 90 days from the date of the request. You have to
show the court a completion certificate issued by the Texas Education Agency
or the Texas Department of Public Safety. If you do not, the court will send
you a notice requiring you to return to court and explain why you failed to
show proof of completion. If you have a good reason why you were unable to present
your proof within 90 days, the judge may, but is not required, to grant you
an extension. Your failure to be present at that hearing may result in a warrant
for your arrest being issued.
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. As in
all criminal trials, the State is required to prove the guilt of the defendant
“beyond a reasonable doubt” of the offense charged in the complaint
before a defendant can be found guilty by a judge or jury.
Your decision concerning which plea to enter is very important. Please consider
each plea carefully before making a decision. If you plead guilty or nolo contendere
in open court, you should be prepared to pay the fine and court costs. You should
contact the court regarding how to make payment.
Plea of Guilty - By a plea of guilty, you admit that the act
is prohibited by law, that you committed the act charged, and that you have
no defense or excuse for your act. Before entering your plea of guilty, however,
you should understand the following:
(1) The State has the burden of proving that you violated the law (the
law does not require that you prove you did not violate the law);
(2) You have the right to hear the State’s evidence and to require the
State to prove you violated the law; and
(3) A plea of guilty may be used against you later in a civil suit if there
was a traffic accident (another party can say
(4) you were at fault or responsible for the accident because you pled
guilty to the traffic charge).
Plea of Nolo Contendere (no contest) – A plea of nolo
contendere means that you do not contest the State’s charge against you.
You will almost certainly be found guilty, unless you are eligible and successfully
complete a driving safety course and/or court ordered probation. Also, a plea
of nolo contendere cannot be used against you in a subsequent civil suit for
Plea of Not Guilty – A plea of not guilty means that
you are informing the Court that you deny guilt or that you have a defense in
your case, and that the State must prove what it has charged against you. If
you plead not guilty, you will need to decide whether to hire an attorney to
represent you. If you represent yourself, the following section on The
Trial will help you to understand trial procedure.
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
(1) The right to inspect the complaint before trial and have it
read to you at the trial;
(2) The right to have your case tried before a jury, if you so desire;
(3) The right to hear all testimony introduced against you;
(4) The right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against
(5) The right to testify in your behalf;
(6) The right not to testify, if you so desire. If you choose not
to testify, your refusal to do so 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
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. You are also
permitted to strike three members of the jury panel for any reason you choose,
except an illegal reason (such as a strike based on solely upon a person’s
If you need a continuance for your trial, you must put the request in writing
and submit it to the court with your reasons prior to trial. The judge will
make a 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 members from participating in secular activities such as court proceedings
(you must file an affidavit with the court stating this information; or
(2) That you feel it is necessary for justice in your case.
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 of 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,
but 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 that you call.
If you so desire, you may testify in your own behalf, but as a defendant, 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
After all testimony is concluded, both sides can make a closing argument. This
is your opportunity to tell the court why you think that 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.
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 witnesses and any evidence admitted during
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-$500; for certain city ordinance violations $2,000; and for
other city ordinance violations-$500.
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 nolo
contendere, if your case is deferred for a driving safety course, of if your
case is deferred and you are placed on probation. If you are found not guilty,
court costs cannot be assessed.
If you are found guilty, and are not satisfied with the judgment of the court,
you have the right to appeal your case. Click on “appeal” to review
the appellate procedures.
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 of any juvenile charged in municipal court is required to be present
in court with his or her child. Juveniles who fail to appear in court may have
an additional charge of failure to appear filed against them. Juveniles who
fail to appear or who fail to pay their fine will be reported to the Department
of Public Safety who 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.
*These procedures have been re-printed with permission from the Texas Municipal
Courts Education Center.