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 accused of committing and that the act is unlawful. You may be tried only for what is alleged in the complaint.
If the Judge tries the case, the Judge’s decision is called a judgment. If a jury tries the case, 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.
You have the following rights in court:
- The right to have notice of the complaint not later than the day before any proceedings (you may request a copy from the Clerk’s office).
- 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 in your behalf.
- The right not to testify,l 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.
- 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 to the Judge 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 an illegal reason (such as a strike based solely upon a person’s race or gender).
If you need a continuance for your trial, you must complete a motion in the form of an affidavit. All motions for continuance must be sworn to by the defendant or attorney having personal knowledge of the facts relied on for the continuance. Motions for continuance must be filed with the Court no later that Thursday prior to your trial. The Judge may require your appearance in Court to further testify to your continuance request. The Judge will make a decision whether or not to 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).
- 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 the prosecution witnesses have finished testifying, you have the right to cross-examine (ask the witnesses questions) about their testimony or any other facts relevant to the case. You may not, however, argue with the witness, comment on the testimony or give your testimony at this time. This is the time for the witness to answer questions. You will have an opportunity to tell your side of the case later in the trial. Your cross-examination of the witness must be in the form of questions only.
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 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 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.
The Municipal Court does not appoint attorneys or lawyers. You may hire an attorney to represent you in Court and have the attorney file a letter of representation with the Court. If you are a juvenile (under the age of 17) and have an attorney representing you in Court, you and your parent/guardian still must appear.
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 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.