A trial in municipal court is a fair, impartial, and public trial as in any other court. Under Texas law, you can be brought to trial only after a sworn complaint is filed against you. A complaint is the charging instrument and you can only be tried for what is alleged in the complaint.
You have the following rights in court:
- 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 any witness who testifies against you
- The right to testify or not testify on your own behalf (if you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot be held against you in determining innocence or guilt)
- You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf at trial. The Court can issue a subpoena (a court order) to ensure their appearance at trial. The request for a subpoena must be made in writing at least 10 days prior to trial
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 that juror. The judge will decide whether or not to grant your request. You are also permitted to strike three (3) members of the jury panel for any reason you choose, except an illegal reason (such as the person's race, sex, etc).
If you need a continuance for your trial, you must submit the request in writing prior to your trial. The Judge will make the 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)
- If you feel it is necessary for justice in your case (you must state the reasons in your request)
Presenting the Case
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 cannot, 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 may know something about the incident in question. 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 cannot be compelled to testify. It is your choice, and if you choose not to testify, it cannot be held against you. If you do choose to testify on your own behalf, 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 judge or jury why you feel you are not guilty of the offense charged. The state has the right to present the first and last arguments. The closing argument can be based only on the testimony presented during the trial.
If the case is tried before 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 can consider only the testimony of witnesses and/or 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.