A trial in municipal court is a fair, impartial, and public trial as in any other court. You may consult an attorney to represent you at trials in Municipal Court, or you may choose to represent yourself.
Under Texas law, you can be brought to trial only after a sworn complaint is filed against you. A complaint is the document, which alleges what act you are supposed to have committed and that the act is unlawful. You can be tried only 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 on your behalf;
- The right not to testify, if you so desire. If you choose not to testify, your refusal to do so cannot be held against you in determining your innocence or guilt;
- You may call witnesses to testify in your behalf at the trial.
If you choose to have the case tried before a jury, a date will be set for the Jury Trial and a panel of prospective jurors will be summoned. 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. 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). Six (6) jurors will be selected to hear all testimony and decide guilt or innocence and, if so directed by the Judge, decide the fine to be assessed for conviction.
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 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 cannot 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 can be based only on the testimony presented during the trial.
Continuances or Postponements
If you need a continuance for your trial, you must put the request in writing and submit it to the court with your reasons 48 hours prior to the trial.
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); or
- If you are ill.
VERDICT OR JUDGMENT
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 can consider only the testimony or 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.
If you decide to appeal your case, you must do so within 10 days from the date of judgment. At that time, you must submit the appeal bond along with cash or money order for twice the amount of the fine and court cost to the Dayton Municipal Court. At that time your case will be sent to the Liberty County Attorney’s Office where your appeal will be heard.