Dallas Bar Association

Municipal Courts & Traffic Tickets

by Chase Griffth and Rachel Lindsay

Almost every lawyer has been asked to give advice on how to handle traffic and city ordinance citations. Whether the requestor is your neighbor with the lead foot, your brother who cannot keep his yard trimmed or an under-21 nephew that enjoys cold beer, most people expect attorneys to have a working knowledge of the municipal court system.

The Texas Legislature has created municipal courts in each of the incorporated cities of the State. Municipal courts operate in more than 900 cities and towns.

These courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over violations of city ordinances and have concurrent jurisdiction with justice of the peace courts over Class C misdemeanor criminal cases. Municipal judges may also issue search or arrest warrants. These courts also have limited civil jurisdiction in cases involving dangerous dogs. Municipal courts are required to have an attorney authorized by state law to prosecute.

This article will provide information you can use to give your ticketed associates a simple way to maneuver through municipal court by explaining the options available to them.

Deferred Disposition

Deferred disposition is a suspended sentence. On your plea of guilty or no contest, the court will defer acceptance of the plea, assess costs, order the accused to post a non-refundable bond and comply with certain conditions. If the terms are successfully completed, then the case will be dismissed. If the terms are not completed, then a judgment will most likely be imposed and a conviction will be reported to Texas Department of Public Safety. Deferred disposition is available for most traffic offenses. It is not available for the following, among others:

  • Commercial Driver’s License holders
  • Committing an offense in a construction zone when workers are present

Driver Safety Course (DSC)

There are two types of DSC’s, mandatory and discretionary. If the accused is under the age of 25 and commits a moving violation, then that person must take a DSC (mandatory). If an otherwise eligible driver is at least 25 years old they have the right to take a DSC (discretionary) if they violated the traffic offenses found in Subtitle C, Title 7 of the Texas Transportation Code (the “Rules of the Road”). Certain citations and offenders are not eligible for DSC. These include:

  • Commercial Driver’s License holders
  • Speeding 25 mph or more over the posted speed limit
  • Committing a serious traffic violation
  • Committing an offense in a construction zone when workers are present
  • Committing an offense while the accused did not have a valid Texas Driver’s License

Trials

When an individual attends a pre-trial hearing to discuss a traffic ticket, the accused has a choice between one of two options: (1) Making a plea with the court and choosing one of the foregoing options offered to the individual by the prosecutor or (2) setting the case for trial. Should an individual contest the citation and opt for trial, the person will decide between a trial by judge or a trial by jury.

Trial by Judge. The case will be heard by the judge only. Both the prosecution and the defense will have the opportunity to present their cases by calling witnesses and introducing evidence into trial.  The Texas Rules of Evidence and Texas Rules of Criminal Procedure are applicable at trial. At the close of the case, the judge will issue a verdict. If found not guilty, the defendant will not be responsible for any court costs or fines and the ticket will not be reflected on the defendant’s driving record. If found guilty, the defendant will be responsible for the court costs, a fine applied by the judge and the conviction will stay on the defendant’s driving record. Trial by Jury. The case will be heard by a six-panel jury. The parties will have the opportunity to present their cases by introducing evidence as explained above. At the close of the case, the jury will be issued a charge. The jury verdict must be unanimous. An acquittal or conviction is handled as explained above.

Appeals

If the defendant is found to be guilty, the defendant has the option of appealing the conviction to a county court at law. Most municipal courts are not courts of record. This means the appeal is trial de novo. Some municipal courts are courts of record, and an appeal from a court of record is not de novo. Each appeal is determined on the basis of the errors set forth in the appellant’s motion that are presented in the transcript and statement of facts prepared from the proceedings leading to the conviction.

Conclusion

While fighting a ticket in court is never an enjoyable experience, this article hopefully eliminates and explains some of the frustrating and unfamiliar territory found in the municipal court system by providing easy and straightforward options to utilize in municipal court.

 

Chase Griffth and Rachel Lindsay are associates at Brown & Hofmeister, L.L.P. They can be reached at cgriffith@bhlaw.net and rlindsay@bhlaw.net, respectively.

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