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 the pre-trial and trial process, Texas Rules of Evidence, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and the State law or City Ordinance with which they are charged with violating. The Court highly encourages all pro-se defendants to watch several jury trials in this court or other courts before you go to trial on your case.
It is illegal in Texas for another person who is not a licensed attorney to represent or give legal advice to another. This crime is called Barratry. If the court observes this criminal behavior occur, law enforcement officers may be ordered to arrest of any person believed to be violating this law.
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 violation of city ordinances.
Rules of Decorum and Conduct
Under the inherent power and duty of all Texas courts as codified in Section 21.002, Texas Government Code, the Lakeway Rules of Decorum and Conduct (see court website tab) shall apply and govern all proceedings before the Lakeway Municipal Court of Record Number One in the County of Travis, State of Texas. All attorneys practicing before this Court, all pro-se defendants acting as their own counsel, and one of the parents or legal guardians of any juvenile defendant who is under the age of seventeen (17) years of age are required to read these rules completely and to conform their conduct to the above stated Rules of Decorum and Conduct. All attorneys practicing before this Court and all pro se defendants acting as their own counsel are required to sign and attest to their receipt of these Rules and to acknowledge that they will follow said Rules at the time of their first court appearance. All attorneys and pro se defendants acting as their own counsel are required to check to make sure they have the latest copy of these Local Rules since there will be addendums and new revisions to these Rules. All attorneys and pro se defendants acknowledge that it is their responsibility to check with the Court to ensure they have the most current Rules of Decorum and Conduct.
Court of Record
Lakeway Municipal Court of Record #1 is a Court of Record. All pleadings must be in writing. Proceedings are governed by the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and Chapter 30 of the Texas Government Code.
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, provide proof for expired license plates or inspection stickers (with certain legal restrictions) or Failure to Provide Proof of Financial Responsibility (proof of auto insurance or security) matters, or you may be eligible for an alternative sentencing option such as a 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 within ten (10) days. 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 to enter 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 a 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 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 to represent you at your trial. If you represent yourself, these suggestions will help you to understand your rights 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 Lakeway Municipal Court of Record #1 is a Court of 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 advice or legal assistance in the presentation of your case.
Appearing in Court
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 in court 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 pled “not guilty” the Court will schedule a pre-trial date and a jury trial date. 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 State 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 be tried only for what is alleged in the complaint. Trials are conducted under the Code of Criminal Procedure as adopted by the Texas Legislature. 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, in order to provide a record for appeal, 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 proceedings (trial) recorded.
Presenting the Case
As in all criminal trials, the State will present its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. You will have the right to cross-examine each prosecution witness. In other words, you can ask the witness questions about their testimony. 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 State 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 witnesses 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, you cannot be compelled to testify. It is your choice, you may do as you wish, and your silence cannot be used against you.
The State also has the right to cross-examine all witnesses called by you. If you testify in your own behalf, the State 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. But such statement can only be based on the testimony heard during the trial. Additional testimony is not admissible in the closing argument.
If the case is tried by a judge, the decision is called a judgment. 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 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, the Judge will announce the penalty at that time.
If you are found guilty, you may make a written motion to the Court for a new trial. The motion must be filed within ten (10) days after a judgment or verdict of guilt has been rendered against you and must specifically include what grounds you rely upon. The judge may grant a new trial if confident that an error has 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 judgment 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 ten (10) days after the motion for new trial is overruled by the Court or operation of law and follow. 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 reporter.
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, as in all motions, 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 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 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.
The amount of fine assessed by the court is affected only by the facts and circumstances of the case. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine, even if you are found guilty. On the other hand, aggravating circumstances may increase the fine. If a police officer is a witness and has to appear off-duty to testify in your case and you are found guilty, the court may order you to pay the cost of the officer’s overtime pay for his court time. This is in addition to the fine and state mandated court costs.
Court Costs will be charged if you are found guilty and assessed a fine, regardless of the amount of that fine. Court costs in the municipal court are set by the State, not by the court. Court costs must also be charged even if the fine is suspended and final disposition of your case is dismissed under the Deferred Disposition procedure. If an arrest warrant is issued, a warrant fee of $50 will be added to the fine and state court costs and possibly another $30 fee for entry of your case into the DPS Omni Court Reporting System.