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How Does the Texas Municipal Court Work?
Texas Municipal Courts are local trial courts of limited jurisdiction in the Texas judicial system. Texas Municipal Courts are created under Texas Government Code Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter 29, and these courts are located in each of the state’s incorporated cities, towns, and villages. They have exclusive original jurisdiction over matters that involve the ordinances of the municipality where the court is located. These types of matters include:
- Cases that arise from municipal ordinance violations that involve fire safety, zoning, public health and sanitation, and are punishable by a maximum fine of $2,000 (this does not include offenses that involve the dumping of refuse)
- Cases that arise from municipal ordinance violations that involve the dumping of refuse and are punishable by a maximum fine of $4,000
- Cases that arise from all other municipal ordinance violations that are punishable by a maximum fine of $500
- All criminal cases that involve misdemeanor offenses committed within the municipality, punishable by fine only (Municipal Courts share concurrent jurisdiction with the Texas Justice Courts in these types of cases)
- Civil cases involving the owners of dangerous dogs
A municipality with a population of at least 1.19 million people may agree with another contiguous municipal (shares a common border) to have concurrent jurisdiction for all criminal cases. These include matters arising from state law violations punishable by fine only, and crimes committed within 200 yards of their common boundary.
Generally, there is one Municipal Court per incorporated municipality in Texas, and each court has one judge. However, some highly populated municipalities may have more than one Municipal Court. Municipal Court judges are either elected or appointed under the local rules set forth by the municipality’s governing body where the court is located. Typically, in general-law cities, the mayor is the ex-officio judge of the Municipal Court, unless the city’s governing board, by ordinance, either authorizes an election or makes provisions for the appointment of a judge. The governing body of a municipality also determines the qualification requirements for the selected judges in their municipality and the length of the term the judges may serve. In most municipalities, this term is for two years. However, some Municipal Court judges may serve four-year terms. Once selected, a Municipal Court judge performs judicial, magisterial, and ministerial duties and is responsible for the court’s general administration. Municipal Courts also have municipal clerks, who may either be appointed, elected, or hired, under the municipality’s ordinances. These clerks aid the Municipal Court judge with the administration of the court. Municipal Court judges have the authority to delegate certain judicial duties to the court clerk. However, some of a judge’s duties cannot be delegated. These duties include:
- Issuing arrest warrants and capiases
- Setting and forfeiting bail
- Issuing summonses for defendants when requested by a prosecutor or for parents of individuals under the age of 17
- Taking and accepting guilty pleas, pleas of nolo contendere, or pleas of not guilty
- Entering pleas of not guilty for defendants that refuse to plead
- Conducting pre-trial hearings and trials
- Granting motions for new trials made after a plea has been entered by a defendant while the defendant was detained in jail.
- Granting continuances
- Forming juries, administering oaths to juries, and charging juries
- Entering judgments and setting fines
- Granting deferred dispositions
- Granting indigence
- Ruling on motions for a new trial
- Setting and approving appeal bonds.
- Ordering the expungement of convictions and records of these convictions
- Holding individuals in contempt of court
The time it takes a Texas Municipal Court judge to issue a disposition is typically dependent on the municipality where the case is being tried and the type of offense involved. In some cases, the judge may defer a disposition. When this happens, the judgment is suspended, and the defendant must comply with certain conditions. Failure to do so will result in the imposition of the suspended judgment. Note that a period of deferment cannot be more than 180 days. In addition to this, individuals with a commercial driver’s license are not eligible for deferred dispositions on offenses involving moving traffic violations.
Judgments issued by a Texas Municipal Court can be appealed in a county-level trial court. Most Municipal Courts are not courts of record, so these appeals are tried de novo in the trial court. However, for Municipal Courts that are courts of records, the appeal cases are taken on the county-level trial courts’ record. Parties that wish to appeal a Texas Municipal Court’s judgment must do so not later than ten days after the judgment was issued.
Members of the public interested in accessing copies of Texas Municipal Court records may do so by contacting thee court clerk’s office at the Municipal Court, where the case was tried. There are over 900 Municipal Courts in Texas, and the Texas judicial system provides interested parties with the contact information of these courts via an online directory.