A trial in municipal court is a fair, impartial and public trial as in any other court. Under Texas law, you may be brought to trial only after a sworn complaint is filed against you. A complaint is a document that alleges the act you are supposed to have committed and that the act is unlawful. You may be tried only for what is alleged in the complaint. You have the following rights in court:
- The right to have notice of the complaint not later than the day before any proceedings;
- The right to inspect the complaint before trial, and have it read to you at the trial;
- The right to have your case tried before a jury, if you so desire;
- The right to hear all testimony introduced against you;
- The right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you;
- The right not to testify, if you so desire. If you choose not to testify, your refusal to do so may not be held against you in determining your innocence or guilt; and
- You may call witnesses to testify in your behalf at the trial, and have the court issue a subpoena (a court order) to any witnesses to ensure their appearance at the trial. The request for a subpoena must be in writing.
Types of Trials
There are two types of trials.
Bench Trial is a trial conducted before a judge without a jury. In such trials, the judge decides both questions of facts and questions of law. Whereas, in a jury trial questions of facts are determined by the jury and only questions of law is decided by the judge. The rules of evidence and procedural methods are the same in both. Specific procedure for bench trial is determined by the applicable state code.
Bench trials are often faster than jury trials because time spent on selecting and instructing a jury can be spared. The defendants may waive their right to a jury trial and may opt for a Bench Trial. However, it is important to recognize that both the defendant and the prosecution have the right to present their case to a jury.
A jury trial is otherwise called a trial by jury. A jury is a group of law abiding members of a community who have been assigned to pronounce an impartial decision on a legal issue. The jury may either arrive at a decision or make findings of fact which are then applied by a judge. It is thus different from a bench trial where a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions.
The jury will consist of 6 jurors and they should give a unanimous verdict. The jurors may be selected through the utility services list, voter's list or driving license lists. A form is sent to the selected members asking them to complete the form regarding their eligibility to become a juror. Once the selected members are considered qualified, a summons is issued to them to be a member of the jury.
If you choose to have the case tried before a jury, you have the right to question jurors about
their qualifications to hear your case. If you think that a juror will not be fair, impartial or unbiased, you may ask the judge to excuse the juror. The judge will decide whether or not to grant your request. In each jury trial, you are also permitted to strike three members of the jury panel for any reason you choose, except an illegal reason (such as a strike based solely upon a person's race or gender).