Under Texas law, you can be brought to trial only after a sworn complaint has been filed against you. The complaint is the document which alleges the offense you are accused of and that your actions were unlawful.
There are two options in municipal court for defendants who wish to take their case to trial:
- Bench Trial: All evidence is heard and a ruling is issued by the judge. The officer will be present to testify as to the facts of the case for the state and you have the right to testify on your behalf.
- Jury Trial: Evidence is heard by a jury panel of six individuals chosen from a pool of Westlake residents. The defendant and/or their attorney will be given the opportunity to question the jury pool prior to making their selections for the panel. Defendants who select a jury trial will be required to submit to trial procedure rules as it relates to questioning potential jurors and presenting evidence at trial as if they were a licensed attorney.
Trial Date Information
Please review the following information:
- Only evidence that is given as sworn testimony may be considered in deciding a person's guilt or innocence.
- You have the right not to testify in your case. Your decision not to testify cannot be held against you in court.
- You have the right to hear all testimony regarding the case brought against you.
- You have the right to inspect the complaint prior to your trial date and to have it read aloud and into the record in open court.
- You have the right to testify on your own behalf.
- You may call witnesses to testify on your behalf and you have the right to have these witnesses subpoenaed by the court.
- You will be held to the same standard as an attorney and will need to make the proper motions and objections during your trial. The Judge cannot provide you with legal advice.
Presenting Your Case
If you choose to have your case heard by a jury, you will have the opportunity to question potential jurors about their qualifications (voir dire) to hear your case. The prosecutor for the state will also have this same opportunity. If you believe a juror cannot be fair, impartial and/or unbiased, you may ask the judge to excuse the juror. The judge will then decide whether or not to grant your motion.
After the case for the state is presented, you will have the right to cross-examine any prosecution witnesses. Your examination must be presented in a question / answer format. You may not argue with the witness or proceed to tell a story at this time. You will have the opportunity to testify at a later time. When the state rests their case, you will have the opportunity to call any witnesses and testify on your own behalf. The state also has the right to cross-examine your witnesses.
After all the testimony has been submitted, each side will have the opportunity to present a closing argument. The closing argument may only be based upon the information submitted at trial.
Judgment / Verdict
If the judge hears the case, the judge's decision is called the judgment. If a jury hears the case, the jury's decision is called a verdict.
If you are found not guilty, you will be free to leave the courtroom and the charge will be recorded on the docket as a finding of not guilty.
If you are found guilty, your penalty will be announced by the judge. You will see the clerk at the lobby window to pay your fine, make payment arrangements or discuss other conditions of your conviction which will be explained to you at this time.
Penalties at Trial
The amount of the penalty the court assesses is determined solely on the facts presented at trial. Mitigating circumstances may lower the fine amount even if you are found guilty. On the other hand, aggravating circumstances may increase the fine amount.
Court costs are also assessed if you are found guilty. State law mandates these costs and they vary according to each offense. The judge does not have the authority to waive the court costs for any offense.
Right to Appeal the Judgment / Verdict
The Town of Westlake Municipal Court is a court of record. As a defendant, you have the right to appeal according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures, Art. 45.042.
If you need additional information regarding the appeal process and requirements, you must research this on your own. The court is not allowed to dispense legal advice and/or advise you on your appeal.