Judge Trial or Jury Trial?
If you plead not guilty, you must choose either a trial before a judge or a trial before a six-person jury. A judge trial means that a Municipal Court judge will consider the evidence and decide whether you are guilty or not guilty. If the judge finds you guilty, the judge will also determine the appropriate penalty.
A jury trial means that a jury of six citizens will consider the evidence and decide whether you are guilty or not guilty. If the jury finds you guilty, you may elect to have the jury determine the appropriate penalty.
Your Rights at Trial
Texas law extends several important rights to defendants in a criminal case. As a defendant you have a right to:
- Hire an attorney to represent you. You cannot have an attorney appointed to represent you in municipal court
- Require the state to prepare a formal complaint, which states the act you are alleged to have committed and the fact that the act is unlawful
- Hear the testimony and view any physical evidence or documents offered against you at your trial
- Testify in your own behalf and the right not to testify. If you choose not to testify, your refusal cannot be considered in deciding your innocence or guilt
- Call witnesses to testify on your behalf, and you have the right to have the court issue subpoenas to these witnesses to compel their appearance in court
Presenting the Case
A trial in municipal court is a fair, impartial and public trial, as in any other court. A trial is a trial of evidence. Evidence comes through the testimony of witnesses who are sworn to tell the truth. Though both sides may make opening and closing statements, the judge or jury is allowed to consider only the testimony of the witnesses in deciding your guilt or innocence.
The state presents its case first by calling witnesses to testify against you. As a defendant, you will have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses by asking questions. You may not argue with the witnesses. You also may not at this time give your version of the events; you will have that opportunity if you choose to testify when you present your case.
After the state has presented its case, you may present your case. You may call witnesses who have personal knowledge about the incident and ask them questions. If you have any physical evidence or documents you want to introduce into evidence, you may only do so by asking witnesses questions about those items. The State will also have the opportunity to cross-examine your witnesses.
You may also testify in your own behalf; however, because you are the defendant, you cannot be forced to testify. If you choose not to testify, your decision cannot be used against you. If you do testify, the State will have the opportunity to cross-examine you.
After both sides have presented their evidence and made any closing statements, the judge or jury will decide, based on the evidence presented, whether you are guilty or not guilty. If you are found not guilty, you will be acquitted of the charge, and you cannot be retried. If you are found guilty, the judge or jury will decide the appropriate penalty at that time.