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Resolving Traffic and Other Class C Misdemeanor Warrants

There are many ways to resolve traffic warrants in Texas. My firm's experience is solely with cities in North Texas but surely translates to other parts of the state. This is a summary of the methods available both to people who have been arrested as well as people who have warrants but remain at large.

First, there's the hard way: getting arrested. But if a person finds themself in handcuffs on the way to jail, they still have a number of options available. The first thing of importance is knowing whether the tickets are 'bondable' or 'fine only.' If they are bondable, a full array of options remains available. However, when tickets have become 'fine only' options are more limited. 'Fine only' tickets have reached that status because at some point a plea of guilty or no contest was entered converting the case to a conviction status and a balance due. This can happen via a failure to complete an agreed payment plan or community service, failure to successfully complete a deferred adjudication or failure to complete a required driver safety course. When cases are 'fine only,' the only thing that can be done is to pay the fine. Ways to pay the fine are discussed in more detail below.

Most people who go to jail on tickets will sit a day or two (or perhaps many more depending on the number of tickets) and get released for "time served." Time served simply means that your jail time "pays" for your tickets. Many people seem to think that this is a great way to pay off their tickets. In fact, for those who are unemployed or earning very low incomes, this option can seem very attractive because most jurisdictions give $100/day credit towards fines. And some jurisdictions give more ranging from $100/day per ticket, (the fines run concurrently), to almost unlimited credit towards fines for staying in jail overnight.

However, there are some some substantial pitfalls with this approach. First, time served equals convictions. So, while some may be able to earn more money towards fines with their time in jail than they could on the streets, convictions can carry consequences that end up being far more expensive. For example, insurance ticket convictions carry hundreds of dollars of surcharges for each of three years. And a second conviction for an insurance ticket adds a driver license suspension (or, if a person doesn't have a license, their ability to obtain one is suspended). Many types of offenses create surcharge liabilty or suspensions. So without legal counsel, it's difficult for a person in jail to know how badly they might be hurting themselves by sitting their tickets out in jail.

Also, a person may go to jail with the intention of sitting out their tickets, but the jurisdiction holding the tickets may have other plans. Some courts (and by courts, I really mean the judge who visits the jail to take pleas) prefer to let people sit out part of their fines but later they will release the inmate with the remaining balance on a payment plan or subject to a community service obligation. So they don't want to keep paying to house inmates just to see their source of ticket income evaporate.

So sitting out tickets isn't always the great bargain some people seem to think. And we haven't even touched on what happens when a person has tickets in multiple jurisdictions. Once the arresting agency is through with the inmate, they notify any other agencies holding warrants that the person is ready for pick up. Some agencies pick up everyone they can within a certain distance, while other agencies seem intent on avoiding sending marshals to collect prisoners. So depending on where the person is being held and where the next agency is, a person may or may not be transferred. Other agencies will have 24 hours to pick up the inmate or the inmate will be released and their warrants from the other jurisdiction reactivated. Once the person is transferred, the process for resolving fines and costs above gets repeated. This can take from a few days to a few weeks depending on how many tickets and agencies the person has to answer for.

Another option for paying tickets is to use actual money. The jail tells how much is due and a generous friend or relative brings that amount and pays the balance down to zero. For cases that are fine only, this is just a pure payment. For cases that are bondable, this is typically treated as a cash bond. Bonds are covered in more detail below.

For those who want their day in court, wish to avoid convictions or simply want out of jail, there are other options. While some agencies will release a person who enters a plea of 'not guilty' with a court date on which they must return to resolve their tickets, others will still require that a bond be posted. However even when released by one jurisdiction, the person will still have to deal with holds from any other jurisdictions before actually walking free. Also, entering a plea of 'not guilty' typically requires they remain in custody until the judge arrives to take their plea. Most judges in most cities come in the morning hours but some are random. In fact, a few jails have judges who come on a basis best described as 'infrequent'. In those places, waiting to see the judge can take up to a week.

Most people who wish to secure their release do so through bonds. There are two types of bonds primarily used in these situations: Cash and Surety.

Cash bonds are advantageous because the money paid to post bonds remains with the cases until completion and is then either refunded or applied to the fines and court costs. However, most people find they can't afford to post the full cash bond amounts, especially when dealing with multiple warrants. And friends or relatives may not wish to place that a large amount of money at risk of forfeiture as they may fear (often for good reason) that the person may miss (or skip) court.

A cheaper option is to post surety bonds through either a bond company or an attorney. These bonds can be obtained for a fraction of the cost of a full cash bond. Many who can't afford cash bonds can come up with the premium for a surety bond. Unfortunately, money paid for surety bonds does not get refunded or applied to the cases upon completion.

Of course, an easier way to resolve tickets is to keep them from going into warrant status in the first place by making timely appearances, attending court dates and either obtaining dismissals, not guilty verdicts, or complying with any and all terms of disposition (plea bargain) agreeements. But when something goes wrong and a case goes to warrant, it's usually of great benefit to address the problem before being arrested and taken to jail. In fact, most of the options listed above are available before being arrested. The critical difference is that the pressure to make a decision is not as severe. And there may be additional options available that can't be utilized from jail.

I'll list the options:

Pay the ticket.

Post a cash bond to set it for court.

Hire an attorney to post a surety bond and provide representation in court.

See if the court has an option allowing the person to see a judge or prosecutor "off docket" to reach a resolution. Such resolutions can include:

Payment plans.

Fine reductions via a no contest plea and explanation of circumstances.

Community service.

Agreed plea for deferred adjudication or defensive driving.

Using jail time already served to 'pay' the ticket.

Requesting warrants be made 'active' so the person may sit the tickets out.

Letting the tickets go into warrant status and running the risk of arrest.

Should the last option be chosen, refer back to the top of this article.

I hope this explanation has been helpful. Of course, the best way to avoid all this is to not get tickets. So keep your car registered, inspected, insured, in good working order and obey all traffic laws. And don't get in arguments, don't get intoxicated in public places, etc,...

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