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What are Texas Traffic Court Records?
Texas traffic court records are documents generated by the Municipal and Justice of the Peace Courts when handling traffic cases. In addition to court proceedings, these records also include traffic tickets or citations issued by law enforcement officers to offending motorists.
Most Common Traffic Violations Ticketed in Texas
Texas law enforcement officers issue most traffic tickets for moving violations. Traffic tickets in the state are for major and minor violations. The most common major traffic violations in Texas are:
- Reckless driving
- DWI (driving while intoxicated)
- Driving without a license
- Hit and run
- Intoxication manslaughter
Some of these offenses are tried in criminal courts and are punished by jail time in addition to fines and driver's license suspensions. For example, DWIs are punishable by a minimum of 3 days in jail while intoxication manslaughter carries prison terms between 2 and 20 years.
What Is the Legal Blood Alcohol Concentration Limit in Texas?
In Texas, motorists operating vehicles with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 are deemed DWI.
Minor traffic violations in Texas usually do not involve crashes, injuries, or death. Some of these are responsible for most traffic tickets issued for parking violations. The most common minor traffic violations in Texas are:
- Parking in disabled space
- Failure to stop for a school bus
- Disobeying railroad crossing signs
- Taking a ride in a vehicle without wearing a seat belt
Besides these moving and parking violations, other common reasons Texas police officers issue traffic tickets are driving without auto insurance, failure to provide a vehicle inspection certificate, and passing authorized emergency vehicles.
What to Do When You Get a Traffic Ticket in Texas
When Texas law enforcement officers issue traffic tickets, the recipients must sign the tickets. Signing a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgement of receipt. A Texas traffic ticket will provide the following information:
- Citation number
- Name of the law enforcement officer issuing the ticket
- Date of issue
- Violator information including name, gender, race, and address of the offending motorist
- Vehicle information include make, model, color, and license number
- Location of the offense
- Violations including fine amounts
- Name and address of the traffic court where the ticketed motorist must appear
- Court appearance date
Regardless of pleas, ticketed motorists must first appear in court on or before their appearance dates. They may appear in person or mail their citations along with pleas to the court. Individuals appearing in person may do so with or without their attorneys. If you received a traffic ticket in Texas, you may plead:
- Not guilty
- No contest
A Texas traffic court will enter a not guilty plea for any individual that refuses to enter a plea.
Ticketed motorists that plead guilty must pay the fines associated with their traffic violations. They are required to pay such fines at their court appearances. If they do not, they will receive court notices to pay their traffic fines within 30 days. They may also have points added to their driving records, have their licenses suspended, be required to complete defensive driving classes, and/or tried for criminal felonies and misdemeanors arising from the violations listed on their tickets. Texas used to have a Driver Responsibility Program that asked for additional surcharges from offending motorists but it has recently been repealed.
Individuals that plead not guilty to their traffic tickets are choosing to contest their citations in court. They may enter this plea at their court appearances. Alternatively, they may check the relevant boxes on their tickets or complete the appropriate citation reply forms and then mail them to the courts of appearance.
Pleading no contest to a traffic ticket is not the same as pleading guilty. Doing so means the ticketed individual is acknowledging the evidence against them and accepting the legal consequences of the violations recorded on their ticket. However, a no-contest plea differs from a guilty plea because it protects the offender from future civil lawsuits arising for the ticketed traffic offense.
How Do I Look Up My Texas Traffic Ticket?
In Texas, county courts handle traffic tickets. These are Texas courts with jurisdiction over Class C misdemeanor cases. To find out the details of a traffic ticket, contact the Justice Court (or Municipal Court in an incorporated city) in the county where the ticket was issued. You may call or visit this court for information. Most of these county courts also put traffic ticket information online on their websites. The public can also use these resources to search for unpaid traffic tickets.
For traffic tickets written by officers of the Texas State Highway Patrol, use the agency’s Citation Search tool. This online search provides results for all traffic tickets issued by the Highway Patrol within the last 24 months. The Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS) also provides a search tool for finding out if you have an overdue court appearance or traffic ticket. Visit the TxDPS Failure to Appear/Failure to Pay Program page to find out if you have an outstanding ticket issued by the State Highway Patrol.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple record. To find records using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
How Do I Pay a Traffic Ticket in Texas?
Municipal (for incorporated cities) and Justice of the Peace (JP) Courts allow traffic violators pleading guilty to their tickets to pay fines:
- In person
- By mail
Checks and money orders are usually accepted for payments sent by mail while those choosing to pay their tickets in person may do so with cash, check, money order, and credit card. To find the specific payment instructions for traffic tickets, visit the webpages of the Municipal or JP Court listed on your ticket. Texas Municipal Courts usually have pages on city websites while JP Courts can be found on county websites.
How Can I Reduce My Traffic Fine in Texas?
It is possible for the court to set a lower fine for defendants choosing to pay their tickets. First, they have to plead guilty and come before a traffic court judge to plead for reduced fines. The decision to set a smaller fine rests solely with the judge after considering the offender’s ability to pay.
There are two other options for offending motorists hoping for reduced fines. These options are provided on the reverse side of a Texas traffic ticket. The first one is taking a Driving Safety Course. Note that not everyone is eligible for this option. Similarly, taking this course is not an option for certain traffic offenses. To be eligible for Driving Safety Course in Texas, and a reduced traffic fine, the offender must:
- Be at least 17 years old
- Present auto insurance documents
- Not have a commercial drivers’ license at the time of the offense
- Not be going more than 24 mph over the posted speed limit if given a speeding ticket
- Not have attended and/or completed a driving safety course in the previous 12 months
The second option is Deferred Adjudication/Disposition. The court does not provide this option for everyone. However, where it is available, the defendant can plead guilty or no contest while the traffic court places them on probation. Deferred Adjudication is only offered at the discretion of the court. It is not available for motorists holding commercial driving licenses, traffic violations committed in work zones, and moving violations. Deferred Disposition is also not available to those that have used this option in the past 12 months.
Contesting a Traffic Ticket in Texas
There are different reasons to contest a traffic citation. One obvious reason is that you believe you did not commit the cited traffic violation and have enough evidence to prove your innocence. Ticketed motorists may also choose to contest their tickets to get reduced fines and/or sentencing. Other reasons to fight a traffic ticket include to reduce the points accrued to their driving records, to prevent their auto insurance rates from increasing, and to avoid losing their licenses.
The first step to contest a traffic ticket in Texas is entering or submitting a not guilty plea to the traffic court listed on the citation. Before entering their pleas, ticketed motorists should note the traffic violations listed on their citations and learn more about the Texas traffic laws related to these offenses. Traffic tickets usually provide statute numbers for easy reference.
After pleading not guilty, the Texas traffic court will then set a trial data. All traffic cases in Texas are jury trials. However, defendants can waive their right to jury by trial and choose bench trial. Only the judge hears the merits of a case in a bench trial. Defendants opting for bench trials must do so in writing.
When a traffic case proceeds to jury or bench trial, the court sets the appropriate fine for the defendant. The fine is usually close to the amount required of the defendant if found guilty of the violation. The total amount payable by the defendant includes court costs. The court will refund the defendant, as appropriate, if it dismisses their ticket after the trial.
What to Expect in a Texas Traffic Court?
Motorists that choose to fight their tickets will have their day in court. In a traffic case, the State of Texas will have a prosecutor represent itself against the offender. The offender may represent themselves or retain the services of an attorney. As most traffic offenses are Class C misdemeanors, the state does not have to provide attorneys to defenders who cannot afford them.
Defendants that choose jury trials for their traffic cases will have the opportunity to question jurors and determine their ability to serve on the jury. An attorney may perform this duty if hired by a defendant in a traffic case. The trial will state with an open statement from the prosecutor and the defendant or their attorney. During the trial, the prosecutor will present the state’s case first and call their witnesses. This is because the state has the burden of proof of proving the defendant’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Among the witnesses, the prosecutor must also present the officer that wrote the ticket.
The defendant will be expected to cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses. After the prosecutor rests, the defendant can then present their testimony and witnesses. The prosecutor will also cross-examine these witnesses. At the end of the trial, both the prosecutor and defendant must provide closing arguments with the prosecutor having the last word.
The jury or judge will then come to a decision regarding the evidence and testimonies presented. If the court finds the defendant not guilty, it will cancel their ticket. If the court finds the defendant guilty, it will determine the appropriate punishment. This can be full or reduced payment of fine and court costs. Alternatively, the judge may exercise discretion and defer the punishment through Deferred Adjudication/Disposition.
How to Prepare for Traffic Court in Texas
When preparing to fight a traffic ticket in court, start by learning about the violations listed on the ticket. For more details, study the Texas Driver Handbook provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety and read the appropriate sections of Texas traffic laws. Use the information obtained to prepare your defense. Consider the location of the violation and how to use it to discredit the ticket. For example, make sure to note if the speed sign close to the site was obstructed.
It also helps to look for errors on the ticket. There are occasional errors on traffic tickets and citations. These errors may note the wrong vehicle information or record the wrong location. Such errors can be used in court to invalidate traffic tickets. While making these research, keep a note about questions to ask the ticketing officer as well as witnesses called by the prosecutor. This is especially important for defendants choosing to represent themselves.
While readying questions to ask the state’s witness, it is important to also prepare your own witnesses. Make sure these individuals directly observe the violations described or can provide useful information to counter events, time, and location described by the ticketing officer and the state’s witness.
When appearing in court, make sure to come in formal clothes. Visit the court’s website to learn about specific court rules regarding appearance and addressing the judge and jury. You may attend the proceedings of another traffic court case to get a better understanding of how Texas traffic courts work. On the day of the hearing, make sure to arrive in court early and have all witnesses and evidence ready before the trial commences.