I Just Received a Traffic Ticket. What Do I Need to Know About My Legal Rights?

April 10th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Traffic Offenses

For many Houston-area residents, dealing with a traffic ticket is usually their first interaction with the local court system. Many people in this situation do not fully understand their rights and obligations under the law. With that in mind, here is a brief overview of what happens after a police officer issues you a traffic ticket.

The Arraignment Process & Your Right to a Trial

The actual traffic citation will contain a date that “you must appear” by in Houston Municipal Court. You can simply pay the ticket by this date. Otherwise, you are expected to show up in court for an arraignment. This is a hearing where you will enter a plea before a Municipal Court judge.

There are three options for entering a plea: guilty, not guilty, or no contest (nolo contendere). By pleading guilty or no contest, you are telling the judge that you do not wish to contest the traffic ticket. If instead, you enter a not-guilty plea, you are asking the court to hold a trial to determine your guilt.

Since a traffic violation is considered a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, you do have the right to request a jury trial. But you can also elect to have the judge conduct the trial without a jury. In that scenario, the judge acting alone will weigh the evidence and determine your guilt. This is known as a bench trial. It is important to note that if you do not want a jury trial, you must sign a written waiver to that effect. The judge cannot simply decide to proceed with a bench trial without your consent.

Fines and Driver Safety Courses

Although a traffic violation is a misdemeanor, you will not go to jail even if found guilty. Rather, the court will impose a fine and add points to your driver’s license. Normally, you have 30 days to pay the fine without incurring additional late fees. But if you are unable to pay the fine, you can apply for a deferred payment program or even ask to perform community service in lieu of payment.

In some cases, you can also get a ticket dismissed without adding points to your license if you agree to complete a driver safety course. You must request this option prior to your arraignment, i.e., your first scheduled court appearance. Note that by agreeing to take the course, you are required to enter a guilty or no-contest plea to the ticket itself. And if you fail to meet the requirements for completing the course, the court will assess an additional fine, and you would still face the addition of points to your driving record.

Speak with a Houston Traffic Ticket Lawyer Today

Should you decide to contest a ticket and go to trial, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced Houston traffic violations defense attorney. Remember, even when the trial is over a traffic ticket, you always have the right to the assistance of counsel. So if you need legal representation, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today. Call 281-280-0100


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