Justices of the Peace have original jurisdiction in criminal cases punishable by fine only, or punishable by a fine and a sanction not consisting of confinement or imprisonment.
Criminal procedures for cases that are within the criminal jurisdiction of the Harris County Justice Courts are found in Chapter 45 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
The Rules of Evidence governing the trials of criminal actions in the District Courts apply to a criminal proceeding in the Justice Courts.
A peace officer who is charging a person with committing an offense that is a Class C misdemeanor may, instead of taking the person before a magistrate, issue a citation that contains written notice of the offense charged and of the time and place the person must appear before a magistrate.
A criminal proceeding in a Justice Court may be commenced by the filing of a complaint in the Justice of the Peace precinct in which the offense was committed or in which the accused resides.
Rights of Defendants
If you are accused of an offense within the jurisdiction of the Justice Court, you have certain rights.
You have the right to see the complaint or citation that has been filed with the court.
You have the right to a trial by jury, but you may waive the right to a trial by jury and be tried by the court.
You have the right to be represented by an attorney of your choice. You are not required to be represented by an attorney. An attorney may make an appearance on your behalf.
You have the right to remain silent and not to give evidence against yourself. You may waive this right and discuss your case with a prosecutor in an effort to dispose of your case without trial.
If you are convicted of “assault” by threatening another with imminent bodily injury, or “assault” by causing offensive or provocative physical contact with another, and the person assaulted is a member of your family or household, or against an individual with whom you have or had a dating relationship, you are notified that it is unlawful for you to possess or transfer a firearm or ammunition
Offenses Involving Violence
If you are convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving violence where you are or were a spouse, intimate partner, parent, or guardian of the victim or are or were involved in another, similar relationship with the victim, it may be unlawful for you to possess or purchase a firearm, including a handgun or long gun, or ammunition, pursuant to federal law under 18 U.S.C. Section 922(g) (9) or Section 46.04(b), Texas Penal Code. If you have any questions whether these laws make it illegal for you to possess or purchase a firearm, you should consult an attorney.
First Appearance in Court
At the time of your first appearance, you will be identified as the defendant, and you will be asked how you plead to the offense with which you are charged.
Pleas are "not guilty," "guilty," or "no contest."
If you plead not guilty, your case will be set for trial. You may waive your right to a trial by jury and have the case heard by the court. At your request, the court will subpoena a witness on your behalf, but you must furnish the court with the name, address, and telephone number of each witness prior to trial. You may be required to attend a pre-trial conference.
If you refuse to enter a plea, the court will enter a plea of not guilty for you, and your case will be set for a jury trial unless you waive that right.
If you plead guilty or no contest, the court will find you guilty and assess a fine as punishment. A plea of no contest has the same result as a plea of guilty, but it may not be used against you in any civil proceeding that might arise from the incident leading to your arrest.
If you are pleading guilty or no contest, you may present any evidence or documents to the court in connection with the offense and you may explain any mitigating circumstances that may affect punishment.
If you are unsure about how to plead, do not hesitate to enter a plea of not guilty.
The court may be required to provide you certain notices, and it is your responsibility to notify the court of any change of address.
Pay the Acceptable Fine by Credit Card
For most offenses for which a citation has been issued, fines can be paid by credit card. You may call 806-291-5201 for instructions and the 800 number to pay by credit card.
Pay the Acceptable Fine in Person or by Mail
If you do not want to appear in court, you have the option of paying your fine by mail or by paying in person at the Justice Court as directed on your citation or summons. Before the time you must appear in court, mail or bring to the court a Plea Form for Criminal Cases together with your payment of the acceptable fine. The acceptable fine amount will include the court costs for the offense with which you are charged.
If you are paying by mail, you must pay by cashier's check or money order, payable to the Hale County Justice Court, Pct. #1. If you are paying in person, you may pay your fine in cash, by cashier's check or money order.
Payment of the acceptable fine constitutes a finding of guilt in open court as though you had entered a plea of no contest.
Enter a Plea of Not Guilty by Mail
Before the time you must appear in court, you may mail or bring to the court a plea of not guilty. The court will set your case for a jury trial. If you notify the court that you waive your right to a jury trial, your case will be set for a trial by the court. You may be required to attend a pre-trial conference.
At your request, the court may consider allowing you a suspended sentence and deferral of final disposition or "deferred disposition." You must first plead guilty or no contest and pay all court costs.
Under this procedure, the court will assess a fine, but will defer further proceedings and place you on probation for up to 180 days. During the probation period, the court may require you to:
1) Post a bond in the amount of the fine assessed to secure payment of the fine;
2) Pay restitution to the victim of the offense in an amount not to exceed $500.00;
3) Submit to professional counseling;
4) Submit to diagnostic testing for alcohol or drugs;
5) Submit to a psychosocial assessment;
6) Participate in an alcohol or drug abuse treatment or education program;
7) Pay the costs of the testing, assessment, or treatment or education program;
8) Complete a course as directed by the judge; or
9) Comply with any other reasonable condition.
You may be required to pay a special expense in an amount not to exceed the amount of the fine assessed.
You will be required to present to the court satisfactory evidence that you have complied with each requirement imposed.
When the court determines that you have complied with the requirements imposed, your case will be dismissed.
If you fail to present satisfactory evidence that you have complied with the requirements, the court will impose the fine assessed and you will be required to pay that fine. If you paid a special expense, that amount will be credited toward the payment of the amount of the fine imposed. The imposition of the fine constitutes a final conviction.
Appearance in Court Required
If you are sixteen (16) years of age or younger, the law requires that you appear in court with a parent, guardian, or managing conservator. A person sixteen (16) years of age or younger cannot pay the fine by mail or in person before the appearance date.
Parent Must Appear with Juvenile
The court is required to take the plea of a person sixteen (16) years of age or younger in open court and will issue a summons to compel the juvenile's parent, guardian, or managing conservator to be present.
Failure of the parent to appear as required by the summons is an offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.00, and may result in the arrest of the parent.
Obligation to Provide Current Address
A juvenile and the juvenile's parent have an obligation to provide the court with the current address and residence of the juvenile. This obligation does not end when the juvenile reaches seventeen (17) years of age, but continues until the case is concluded and any judgment is fully satisfied. Notice of a new address must be given to the court, in writing, on or before the seventh (7th) day after the date the juvenile or the juvenile's parent changes residence.
Failure to notify the court of the current address is an offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.00.
When Juveniles Become Adults
If a juvenile charged with an offense filed in the Justice Court fails to appear in court as required, the court will issue a warning to the juvenile when the juvenile reaches seventeen (17) years of age. The notice will warn the individual of a continuing obligation to appear to conclude the case. The notice will further warn that the failure to appear as required by the notice is a criminal offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.00, and will result in the issuance of an arrest warrant.
Expunction for Certain Conviction Records of Juveniles
A person convicted of not more than one offense punishable by fine only, committed when the person was a juvenile, is entitled to request that the record of that conviction be expunged. The request must be made on or after the person's seventeenth (17th) birthday. The fee for filing anApplication for Expunction is $30, plus fees for postage for notices of hearing and orders of expunction, if issued.
There are specific provisions for expunction of offenses relating to the possession and consumption of alcohol, the possession of cigarettes and tobacco products, and for failure to attend school.
Convictions Relating to Alcohol
Any person convicted of not more than one offense related to the purchase, consumption, or possession of alcohol while a minor, or driving under the influence of alcohol by a minor, or misrepresenting age, on attaining the age of 21 years, may apply to the court in which the individual was convicted to have the conviction expunged. If the court finds that the applicant was not convicted of any other violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Code while the individual was a minor, the court will order the records relating to the offense to be expunged and the conviction may not be shown or made known for any purpose.
Convictions Relating to Cigarettes and Tobacco Products
An individual convicted of the possession, purchase, consumption, or receipt of cigarettes or tobacco products by a minor, may apply to the court to have the conviction expunged. If the court finds that the individual satisfactorily completed the tobacco awareness program or tobacco-related community service ordered by the court, the court will order the records relating to the offense to be expunged and the conviction may not be shown or made known for any purpose.
Convictions Relating to Failure to Attend School
An individual convicted not more than one time for failing to attend school may, on or after the individual's 18th birthday, apply to the court in which the individual was convicted to have the conviction expunged. If the court finds that the individual has not been convicted more than one time for failing to attend school, the court will order the records relating to the offense to be expunged and the conviction may not be shown or made known for any purpose. There are no fees or court costs to apply for an expunction of a conviction for failure to attend school.
If you plead guilty or no contest, or if you are found guilty after trial, you will be assessed a fine as punishment. You will also be responsible for court costs. Full payment of the fine and costs will satisfy your obligations in connection with the charge filed against you.
Time to Pay the Fine and Costs
If you must make arrangements for more time to pay your fine and court costs, you will need to make that request to the court. You should be aware that the Court is required to impose an additional Time Payment Fee of $25 if the fine and costs are not paid in full before the expiration of 31 days. This fee is required by Article 103.033 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
Time to Pay and Time Payment Fee
If you need to make arrangements for more time to pay your fine and court costs, you will need to make that request to the court. If you request to pay over a period of more than thirty (30) days, a $25.00 Time Payment Fee will be assessed. This fee is required by Article 103.033 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
If you fail to take care of your citation prior to the appearance date on the citation, or fail to appear in court as required, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest. You may also be charged with an additional offense for violating your promise to appear. The issuance of a warrant carries additional fees, and the punishment for the offense of "violate promise to appear" is a fine of not more than $200.00.
If you fail to appear after posting bail, you may be charged with the offense of "failure to appear." The punishment for "failure to appear" is a fine not to exceed $500.00.
Denial of Renewal of Driver's License: If you fail to appear in court as required, the court may notify the Department of Public Safety to deny the renewal of your driver's license. You will be required to pay an administrative fee of $30 prior to the renewal of your license. This fee is required by Section 706.006 of the Texas Transportation Code.
If a warrant is issued, you may avoid arrest by:
Posting Bail at the Justice Court:
You may post bail at the Justice Court in which your case is filed. Bail may be in the form of a Surety Bond or a Cash Bond. If you are posting a cash bond, you must tender cash in the form of a cashier's check or money order, payable to the Justice of the Peace, in the amount of the bail.
A magistrate must consider allowing you a personal bond.
When you have posted bail, you will be notified of the date and time you are to appear in court.
Paying the Fine at the Court:
You may pay the acceptable fine either (i) in person at the Justice Court in which your case is filed or (ii) by mailing the fine to the Justice Court.Fines may be paid by cashier's check or money order payable to the Justice of the Peace.
Fines may also be paid in cash at the office of the Justice of the Peace.
Fines may be paid by credit or debit cards. You must contact the Justice Court to receive the 800 number and the instructions for payment by phone.
If you pay the fine, no further court appearance is necessary.
You will remain subject to arrest until you post bail or otherwise dispose of your case.
If you are arrested, you will be required to give bail to secure your release from custody and appear in court at a later time to answer for this charge.
A motion for new trial must be made within one (1) day after the rendition of the judgment. A motion for new trial cannot be made afterward.
The judge has ten (10) days after the date the judgment was entered within which to grant a new trial. If a motion for new trial is not granted before the eleventh (11th) day after the date the judgment was entered, the motion for new trial is considered denied.
An appeal from a judgment of a Hale County Justice Court is heard by a Hale County Court.
An appeal is perfected by filing an Appeal Bond in the amount of two (2) times the amount of the fine and costs. The bond is filed with the justice court in which the case was filed, and must be filed not later than the tenth (10th) day after the date the judgment was entered.
When the appeal bond has been timely filed, all proceedings in the Justice Court will cease.