Do you need an attorney?
Many people in traffic court represent themselves. However, a lawyer may help insure that your rights are protected. Texas traffic offenses are based on statutes, and a good lawyer will be able to insure that the State is following all of the requirements of the statute. Punishment for traffic offenses are primarily by fine, but points can be added to your driver's license. If you acquire 6 or more points on your license within a 3 year period, there will be a surcharge that is accessed annually. Since points will remain on your record for 3 years, you may end up paying surcharges on your points every year for 3 years. Failure to pay this surcharge will result in your license being suspended. It may make financial sense to hire an attorney if you could exceed 5 points in a 3 year period.
Initial plea (also known as arraignment)
At the time the officer writes your citation, he or she will assign a date you will have to come to court. In some places, the date is the maximum time you have to enter a plea. In other areas, the date is your assigned court date that you have to be present for. At the arraignment, the court or the prosecutor will ask how you want to plea. Now is also the time to show certain documentation. For example, if you did not have your insurance card with you on the day of offense and were cited for that, you can provide proof of insurance coverage (at the time of the offense) at arraignment and the insurance case may be dismissed.
At the arraignment, you will be able to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest (also known as nolo contendere). If you plead not guilty, you will be given the choice of a trial by judge or jury, and a trial date. You may be able to plead guilty and request defensive driving or deferred adjudication, which will keep points from being applied to your license, assuming all conditions are met and satisfied. A plea of no contest is important if your case involves an accident. A plea of no contest is not an admission of liability. Otherwise, the no contest plea and the guilty plea are treated the same. Certain traffic offenses, such as failing to register a vehicle or not having insurance or a child safety seat, may be dismissed if you correct the violation or otherwise meet the requirements. In some courts, you have the option of requesting defensive driving or deferred adjudication over the phone, online, or by mail. In most places, you can only enter a plea of not guilty in person.
Preparing for trial
If you plead not guilty and request a trial, you have to be prepared to present your case on that day. This means having all of your exhibits and witnesses ready. You will be allowed to hear the police officer testify and you will have the opportunity to ask him or her questions. After the state rests, you will be able to present your side of the case, including you testifying. You have a right to not testify, and testifying will allow the state prosecutor to ask you questions as well. The State has to prove all of the elements of the offense listed in the statute beyond a reasonable doubt in order to prevail. There are a lot of issues associated with trials, such as the rules of evidence and picking a jury, that I cannot cover in this short guide. If you have any questions, I encourage you to contact an attorney.