Representing yourself in Municipal Court
It is every individual's constitutional right to represent themselves in municipal court. However, all defendants who decide to represent themselves in court should understand that they will be held to exactly the same standards as an attorney.
Individuals who are representing themselves (Pro-Se parties) should be prepared to present their cases in a proper manner. It is not the Court's duty or responsibility to protect or represent you, or to instruct or educate you on court procedures, evidence, rules or how to present and prove your case. If you are unprepared, unaware, and not knowledgeable as to presenting your case, you may lose your case.
Pro-Se defendants should be familiar with pre-trial and trial procedures, Texas Rules of Evidence, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and the State law or City ordinance with which they are charged with violating.
Municipal Court Overview
Municipal Courts are the judicial branch of city government. In addition, the Municipal Court is part of the state judicial system. Municipal Courts hear misdemeanor criminal cases, including traffic violations, which are punishable by fine only, and for which no jail sentence may be assessed. They also hear cases involving violations of city ordinances.
When you receive a citation, the options you have to resolve your case can vary depending on many different factors, including but not limited to: the type of violation, the severity of the violation, the age of the defendant, etc. The first thing you will need to do is enter a plea, Once you enter a plea, you may be scheduled for a court date, or you may have the option of disposing of the case without appearing in open court. If your situation allows you to resolve the matter without appearing in open court, you may pay the fine, provided proof of expired license plates, or failure to provide proof of financial responsibility (proof of auto insurance or security) matters, or you may be eligible for an alternate sentencing option 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 appearance 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 on or before your appearance date indicated on your citation. There are three possible pleas to a complaint: Guilty, Nolo Contendere (no contest), and Not Guilty. Your decision on what plea to enter is the most important decision you will have to make. Whether you feel that you are guilty or not, we suggest that you read the following explanations of all three types of pleas before making your decision.
Innocent until Proven Guilty: All persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Your decision concerning which plea is very important. You should review the following material before determining your plea.
Plea of Not Guilty: A plea of not guilty means you are informing the Court that you deny guilt or that you have a good defense in your case or that you desire to have the State of Texas prove their assertion of your guilt at a formal trial by judge or jury. A plea of not guilty requires that a trial be held. The State must prove the guilt of the defendant "beyond a reasonable doubt" of the offense charged. You may 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 to represent you at your trial. If you represent yourself, these suggestions will help you to understand your right and trial procedures.
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:
1. The State has the burden of proving that you violated the law.
2. You have the right to hear the State's evidence against you.
3. A plea of guilty maybe 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 (challenge) the State's charge against you. You will almost certainly be found guilty. This plea cannot be held against you in a subsequent civil suit for damages. If you plead guilty or nolo contendere in open Court, you should be prepared to pay the fine.
If you defend yourself, please be advised that the Liberty Hill Municipal Court is a court of non-record. All proceedings will be conducted according to 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 by providing legal advise or legal assistance in the presentation of your case.