You are afforded certain rights when appearing before the Haltom City Municipal Court.
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 violation: $500; for city ordinance violations relating the health, safety, fire, and zoning: $2,000; and for other city ordinance violations: $500.
If you are found guilty and are not satisfied with the judgment of the court, you have the right to appeal your case. Defendants in courts of record should refer to Section 30.00014 of the Government Code in the process of appealing.
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.
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 for the violation for which you are charged. If you request a trial, you may also have to 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.
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 the 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.
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 any witness that you call. If you so desire, you may testify on your own behalf, but as a defendant, you may not be compelled to testify. It is your choice, and your silence cannot be used against you. If you testify, The State has the right to cross-examine you. After all, the testimony is concluded, and 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 may be based only on the testimony presented during the trial.
If you need a continuance for your court appearance, you must put the request in writing and submit it to the court with your reasons at least one business day prior to the scheduled court appearance before the judge. The judge will make a decision on whether or not to grant or not grant the continuance. You may request a continuance for the following reasons:
- 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...
- That you feel is necessary for justice in your case.
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 supposed to have committed 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:
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 an illegal reason (such as a strike based solely upon a person's race or gender).
If you were issued a citation, your appearance date is noted on the citation (21 business days from the date of 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 give you a new appearance date if it is granted. You or your attorney may appear in person 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. Please see Options for Disposition.
If you wish to contest your case and see the Prosecutor or you would like to appear before the Haltom City Municipal Court Judge you must appear in person to request a court date. Once it has gone to warrant, you must post a cash bond in order to secure a court date. Once you are before the Judge, if you waive your right to a jury trial and plead guilty or no contest, a fine will be assessed. You may request deferred disposition, defensive driving, or community service if you are found to be indigent. All fines are due that day.
Before pleading guilty or no contest you will want to read the section on pleas below. Some things can be requested at the counter without having to go before the Judge. Please see Options for Disposition for specific information. The Judge legally cannot listen to the facts of a case if you plead not guilty. This would be considered ex-parte communication. The Prosecutor is present at our court dockets in order to speak with you about your case(s). If you come to an agreement with the Prosecutor, the Judge will either grant or deny the agreement. If you do not come to an agreement, the court will schedule you for a Jury Trial unless you waive that right. If you waive that right, you will be scheduled for a Bench Trial, both of which are discussed below. When you make your appearance and plea of not guilty by mail, the court must receive your plea before your scheduled appearance date noted on the citation. The court will mail you back a court notice that you must complete and mail back to the court. Please make sure that you give the court a complete mailing address and phone number.
The court is not responsible for lost mail.
Under our American system of justice, all persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. On a plea of not guilty, a trial is held. As in all criminal trials, the State must prove the guilt of a defendant "beyond a reasonable doubt" of the offense charged in the complaint before the defendant can be found guilty by a judge or jury. Your decision concerning which plea to enter is very important. You should read the following explanation of all three types of pleas and think carefully before making your decision. If you plead guilty or have no contest, you should be prepared to pay the fine.
Plea of Guilty -By a plea of guilty, you admit that the act is prohibited by law and that you committed the act charged. 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 you were responsible for the accident because you pled guilty to the traffic charge).
Plea of Nolo Contendere -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 may not be used against you in a civil suit. Plea of Not Guilty -A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt, and that the State must prove the charge that it filed against you. If you plead not guilty, you need to decide whether to hire an attorney to represent you. If you represent yourself, the section entitled "The Trial" may help you understand your rights and the trial procedure.