Municipal Court Procedures - Adults
This information is designed to provide you with a general understanding about Court proceedings. It is not a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney. If you have questions about your best course of action, what plea you should enter, your rights, or the consequence of a conviction of the offense for which you are charged you should contact an attorney. Neither the Clerk, Judge nor Prosecutor can give you legal advice.
The law requires you to make an appearance on your case. Your appearance date is noted on your citation, bond, summons or release papers. 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 read Municipal Court Procedures - Juveniles).
Your first appearance is to determine your plea.
If you plead guilty or no contest, waive a jury trial and pay the fine, you may do so by personal appearance, by mail, or use the online payment system.
If you plead not guilty, the Court will set a date and time for your first docket appearance. This will be at a regular docket call, usually on the second Monday of the month. You will have an opportunity to discuss your case with the Sunset Valley City Prosecutor and the options that are available to you including but not limited to a jury trial or trial before the Judge.
When making an appearance by mail include a Reply by Mail Form. The Court must receive your plea before your scheduled appearance date. If the appearance date falls on a Saturday,Sunday, or City Holiday, you will be given until the following work day to submit payment or your intentions. It is your responsibility to provide the Court with your current mailing address and telephone contact numbers.
You must enter one of these three pleas for your case, unless your case is eligible for a compliance dismissal:
- NOT GUILTY: A plea of not guilty means that you deny guilt, and requires the State to prove the charge. A plea of not guilty does not waive any of your rights. A plea of not guilty does not prevent a plea of guilty or no contest at a later time. You may request a Bench Trial (Trial by Judge) or Trial by Jury.
- GUILTY:By a plea of guilty, you admit that the act is prohibited by law and that you committed the act charged. You must pay the fine and court costs. This option results in a possible conviction, which will stay on your record. You may request a payment plan.
- NOLO CONTENDERE (No Contest): A plea of nolo contendere means that you do not contest the State's charge against you. This option results in a possible conviction, which will stay on your record. A deferred disposition, however, may be requested. You may also request a payment plan.
If you plead guilty or nolo contendere, you will be found guilty and should be prepared to pay the fine. A plea of guilty waives all of the trial rights discussed earlier. You should contact the court regarding how to make payments if you are unable to pay the entire fine and cost.
IF YOU DO NOT APPEAR IN COURT AND FAIL TO CONTACT THE COURT BY THE DATE INDICATED ON THE CITATION, AN ARREST WARRANT MAY BE ISSUED AND ADDITIONAL CHARGES OF VIOLATION OF PROMISE TO APPEAR MAY BE FILED. YOU MAY ALSO BE DENIED RENEWAL OF YOUR DRIVER'S LICENSE AND ASSESSED AN ADDITIONAL FEE.
Fines, Costs and Fees
The amount of fine the Court assesses is determined by the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine and aggravating circumstances may increase the fine. The maximum fine amount allowed for most traffic violations is $200; the maximum fine for most other State law and city ordinances violations is $500; and the maximum fine for health and safety city ordinance violations is $2,000. The Court may set the fine between $1 and the maximum. Courts are required by State law to collect court costs and fees for the State of Texas.
If a warrant was served or processed, a $50 warrant fee is also assessed. If you do not pay the whole fine and costs within 30 days of the Court’s Judgment, you must pay a $25 time payment fee.
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 probation. If you are found not guilty court costs are not assessed.
See the fee schedule here.
If you are unable to pay your fine and costs, you may be eligible to discharge your obligation by performing community service. This must be granted by the court. Community Service hours must be performed with a non-profit, non-political and non-religious organization. You will receive $50 credit for each 8 hours worked.
Judge’s Ability to Dismiss
The Municipal Judge is responsible for conducting a fair, impartial and public trial. The case against you is brought by the State of Texas through the prosecutor, not the Court. Therefore, the Judge may not dismiss a case without the prosecutor having the right to try the case. The exceptions to this rule include Driver’s Safety Courses, Deferred Disposition, and certain Statutory and Discretionary Compliance Dismissals.
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. You are also permitted to strike three members of the jury panel for any reason you choose, except a strike based solely upon race or gender.
As in all criminal trials, the State will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. You then have the right to cross-examine. You may not, however, argue with the witness. Cross-examination must be in the form of questions.
After the prosecution, 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 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 jury or Court why you are not guilty of the offense. The State has the right to present the first and last arguments.
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. You may elect the jury to assess the fine if you are convicted. If you do not file an election the Judge will assess the fine. You should be prepared to pay the fine or post an appeal bond if you are found guilty.
If you need a continuance for your Trial or Docket Call, you must contact the Court IN WRITING prior to your scheduled appearance date. The Judge will rule on your request for a continuance and you will be notified in writing. REQUESTS FOR A CONTINUANCE MADE ON THE SAME DAY AS YOUR SCHEDULED APPEARANCE DATE MAY NOT BE APPROVED BY THE JUDGE.
Appeal and New Trial
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. The Court must set the appeal bond amount at least twice the amount of the fine and costs. Look at the Appearance section for the special rules for appealing pleas made by mail.
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 the Court’s rendering a judgment of guilt. The Judge may grant a new trial if persuaded that justice has not been done in your case. Only one new trial
may be granted.
Driving Safety Course
If you are charged with a moving-traffic offense, you may be eligible to ask the Judge to take a Driving Safety Course to dismiss the charge. For more information, click here.
If you are charged with a moving-traffic offense, and you are ineligible to take a Driving Safety Course, you may be eligible to ask the Judge to defer disposition on your case. For more information, please contact the Court Administrator.
Certain violations may be dismissed upon proof of compliance. For more information, and a list of these offenses, click here.