Municipal Court is the judicial branch of City government and is part of the State Judicial System. The Court hears misdemeanor criminal cases, including traffic violations, and cases involving violations of City ordinance.
When you receive a citation, the options you have to resolve your case vary depending on many different factors, including, but not limited to, the type and severity of the violation(s), the age of the defendant, et cetera. Once you have entered a plea, you may have the option of disposing of the case without appearing in open Court.
If a Court appearance is not necessary, you may pay the fine and/or provide proof of expired license plates, inspection stickers, or insurance. You may also be eligible for an alternative sentencing options, such as Deferred Disposition Probation or a State Driver Safety Course.
Entering a Plea
You must decide upon and enter a plea to the charge against you on or before the response date on your citation. If you signed a citation in front of an officer, you did not plead guilty, but only signed a promise to appear in Court. There are three (3) possible pleas to a complaint: Guilty, Nolo Contendere (No Contest), or Not Guilty. Your decision on what plea to enter is the most important decision you will make during this process.
Plea of Not Guilty
A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt, you have a good defense in your case, or you desire to have the City prove its assertion of your guilt at a formal trial by a judge or jury. A plea of not guilty requires that a trial be held. The City must prove the guilt of the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt” of the offense charged. You will elect to have a jury trial, or, if you waive a trial by jury, you may have a trial before a judge. If you plead “not guilty,” you must decide whether to hire an attorney or represent yourself.
If you defend yourself, please be advised that the Johnson City Municipal Court of Record #1 is a Court of Record, and all proceedings will be conducted in accordance with the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and the Rules of Evidence. If you choose to represent yourself, you must be prepared. The Court staff, bailiff, prosecuting attorney, or Judge cannot act as your attorney, nor can they provide legal advice and/or assistance in the presentation of your case.
Plea of Guilty
A plea of guilty means that the act with which you are charged is prohibited by law, that you committed the act, and that you have no defense or excuse for the act. Before you enter a plea of guilty, consider the following:
- The City has the burden of proving that you violated the law.
- You have the right to hear the City's evidence against you.
- A plea of guilty may be used against you later in a civil suit.
Plea of Nolo Contendere (No Contest)
A plea of nolo contendere means that you do not contest the City's charge against you, and you will, almost certainly, be found guilty. This plea cannot be held against you in a subsequent civil suit for damages. If you plead nolo contendere in open Court, you should be prepared to pay the fine.
Deferred Disposition / Probation
You are eligible for deferred disposition if you meet all of the following requirements:
- You have not had a deferral in Johnson City in the past year;
- Your request is made before the appearance date on the original citation, the notice to appear, or before any date to which that initial appearance date has been extended or reset;
- You enter a plea of guilty and waive a jury trial;
- You provide proof of minimum liability insurance, required by Chapter 601, Texas Transportation Code;
- You are at least 25 years of age, or, if less than 25 years of age, agree to complete a driving safety course approved under Chapter 1001, Texas Education Code;
- You have had no more than 2 convictions of any traffic offense in the past 3 years;
- You pay a special expense fee at the time of your request (an amount equal to the maximum fine for the offense alleged, plus Court costs);
- You sign an affidavit of eligibility; and
- You provide a Driving Record (3A version) from DPS.
You are not eligible if:
- You are currently on a deferral for any court or you had a prior deferral in Johnson City within the past year;
- You have been convicted of more than 2 convictions of any traffic offense in the past 3 years (from the date of offense);
- You have failed to appear on the offense or a warrant has been issued for your arrest;
- You hold a commercial drivers license; or
- The offense is a serious traffic violation and would not be eligible for a driving safety course, as stated below:
- Speeding in a school zone;
- Leaving the scene of an accident;
- Failing to stop and render aid;
- Fleeing from a police officer;
- Reckless driving;
- Overtaking or passing a school bus;
- Excessive speeding of 20 miles per hour and over; or
- Any offense in a construction zone when workers were present.
Appearing in Court
Please allow 2-3 days before making an appearance. The Police Department must first file the charge with the Court before we can assist you.
Your appearance date is noted on your citation just above your signature. It states that you promise to appear “on or before” the provided date. You must make an appearance in person or by mail (post marked) no later than the date provided. Telephone calls DO NOT constitute an appearance. Please note that the Clerk can handle most transactions at the window; however, if you wish to see the Judge, you must submit a written request and be scheduled for the next available docket.
Continuance requests may only be submitted for good cause, and they must be submitted in writing. Requests are not granted by telephone.
The law requires that you (and/or your attorney) appear in Court in person for your case. If you are under 17 years of age, you must appear with a parent and you cannot waive Court appearance.
Your first appearance is to determine what plea you will enter in your case. If you plead guilty or no contest, you may wish to reveal any extenuating circumstances that you want the Judge to consider when setting your fine. If you plead "not guilty,” the Court will schedule a pre-trial and jury trial dates. You may waive your right to a jury trial. If you do, the trial will take place before a judge. In all criminal trials, the City must prove the guilt of the Defendant beyond a reasonable doubt of the alleged offense charged in the complaint.
Under Texas law, you can be brought to trial only after a formal complaint is filed. The complaint is the charging document that alleges what you have done and the fact that such action is unlawful. You can only be tried for what is alleged in the complaint. Trials are conducted under the Code of Criminal Procedure, as adopted by the State of Texas. These laws may be found in Chapter 45 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
- You have the right to inspect the complaint before trial and have it read to you at the trial itself.
- You are entitled to hear all testimony introduced against you.
- You have a right to cross-examine any witness who testifies against you.
- You have the right to testify in your own behalf. You also have the right not to testify. If you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot be considered in determining your innocence or guilt of the charge.
- You may call witnesses to testify in your behalf at the trial, and have the right to have the Court issue subpoenas to these witnesses to ensure their appearance at the trial.
Request for the Making of an Electronic Record (recording)
All requests for a trial to be electronically recorded must be made to the judge in writing at or before the pre-trial hearing. Failure to do so waives a defendant’s right to have the proceeding recorded.
Presenting the Case
As in all criminal trials, the City will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. You will have the right to cross-examine each prosecution witness; however, you cannot argue with the witness. Your cross-examination of the witness must be in the form of questions only. Do not attempt to tell your version of the incident at this time – you will have an opportunity to do so later if you testify.
After the City has presented its case, you may present your case. You have the right to call any witness who knows anything about the incident, but the witness can testify only about matters of which they have personal knowledge. If you choose, you may testify in your own behalf. Since you are the defendant, however, you cannot be compelled to testify. Your silence cannot be used against you.
The City also has the right to cross-examine all witnesses called by you. If you testify in your own behalf, he City may cross-examine.
After testimony is concluded by both sides, you can make a closing argument by telling the Court why you feel that you are not guilty of the offense charged. Such statement can only be based on the testimony heard during the trial. Additional testimony is not admissible in the closing arguments.
If the case is tried by a judge, the decision is called a judgement. If the case is tried by a jury, the 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 the trial. If you are found guilty by either the judge or the jury, the penalty will be announced at that time. If found not guilty, you will be acquitted of the charges.
If you are found guilty, you may make a written motion to the Court for a new trial. The motion must be filed within 10 days after judgement or verdict of guilt has been rendered against you, and it must specifically include what grounds you rely upon. The Judge may grant a new trial if he or she is confident that an error occurred 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 judgement of the Court, you have the right to appeal your case. You must file a timely motion for a new trial to perfect your appeal. To appeal, you must file an appeal bond with the Municipal Court within 10 days after the motion for a new trial is overruled by the Court or operation of law. If you appeal, you will have to obtain a record. In order to obtain a copy of the record, you must pay the fees required by the Court.
Attorneys and pro se litigants understand that they are not excused from attending Court based on the filing of a motion for continuance or any request for continuance. All motions and requests for continuance must be sworn to, in writing, and must be submitted to and received by the Court no less than 24 hours before the date of the hearing sought to be continued. When submitting a motion for continuance, the defendant and his/her attorney are required to attach an order for the judge to sign indicating whether the motion has been granted or denied. There will be no re-sets of any jury trials, except upon an emergency situation. Only if the motion is granted are attorneys and parties excused from appearing. It is the duty of the movant to ascertain whether the Judge has granted or denied their motion for continuance.
If the motion has not been granted, the attorneys and parties are required to attend the Court session to which they were assigned. If the motion for continuance was granted by the Judge, the attorneys, pro-se litigants, and all other parties agree to appear at the new court date. It is the duty of all attorneys and pro-se litigants to contact the Court and ascertain the time and date to which the case is reset.
Failure to appear at the time and date on which your case is re-set shall constitute a Failure To Appear/Bail Jumping criminal charge to be issued against the defendant, and it may also be grounds for a contempt of court (order) charge being filed against the attorney, as well as referral to the State Bar of Texas for disciplinary proceedings. A continuance may be requested for the reasons set forth in the Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 28.01.