Ed completely forgot about appearing for his no insurance, speeding and expired registration ticket he received three months ago. He was not worried about the ticket despite the advertisements he received in the mail from law offices telling him of his warrants. He discussed his situation with his friends and family. Their responses varied. His friend Steve told him to hire an attorney to get rid of the warrants. His older brother Anthony, told him to mail in the court payments and just be done with the case. However, he liked his girlfriend Carlene's advice best. She told him once she was in the same situation and she did not go back to court until two years after she got her ticket. Nothing happened to her and by the time she resolved the ticket, the cop did not remember her case and all her tickets were dismissed. Carlene suggested he wait at least a year and then go resolve the tickets. Ed liked that idea. He thought why not try Carlene's advice. She did the same thing, got her cases dismissed and nothing happened to her. After all its traffic court, what could possibly go wrong?
Most Texans come into contact with our system of justice through our municipal and justice courts when they receive a traffic ticket. Many of these courts are more readily accessible to the average person. Yet, the familiarity of traffic courts and their size sometimes lead to the mistaken belief that the judgments issued there will be of no consequence. So what can go wrong for a person in traffic court?
1. Leave Money On The Table
It never fails to surprise me how many people think if they get a ticket, it would be best to save time and just pay the window fine at the courthouse or through the mail. However, what is saved in time could end up costing more money. Electing to appear before a judge or jury could lead to the discovery of motions to dismiss the ticket on legal merits. Even if a legal motion to dismiss does not exist, agreements are possible that could save a person from paying all of their tickets where they were issued more than one charge or to reduce the fine amount where only one charge is involved. Persons who pay their tickets at the courthouse or through the mail, walk away from the possibility of paying nothing or reducing the fine amount owed.
2. Obtain Points on Your Texas Driver's License
Texas Drivers must adhere to the Department of Public Safety's Driver Responsibility Program.1 A person who receives a moving violation conviction of a traffic law is assessed two points. For each moving violation conviction that results in an accident, a person is assessed three points.2 When a person receives six points in a three year time period, they must pay surcharges of $100 per year until the points assessed are less than six points.3 Any conviction that results in additional points over six points in a three year time frame will result in an additional surcharge of $25 per year.4 Convictions for moving violations can assess points for a period of three years. The accumulation of any points on a driving record could lead to an increase in insurance rates.
3. Pick up Surcharges From A Conviction Based Offense
A driver who pleas to an offense that is conviction based under the Driver Responsibility Program can also owe surcharges regardless of if any points are assessed on their records. Cases such as driving while license suspended, no driver's license, incorrect license endorsement and no insurance can result in surcharges of between $100 to $250 per year.5 A conviction for a license based offense or a no insurance offense will assess surcharges on a person's driving record for three years.
4. Gain A Warrant
A traffic citation is a crime that is not punishable by jail time. However, a person who receives a citation and fails to appear for their court date risks the issuance of an arrest warrant.6 An arrest warrant authorizes a peace officer to arrest an individual who misses court so they may appear before the municipal court or justice of the peace to resolve their case.7 A person who misses court may avoid jail time by posting a bond.8 A person may also return to the courthouse where the warrant was issued to resolve the matter and terminate the warrant.9 If the warrant exists for greater than thirty days, additional state fees and collection costs may be given to a person who misses court.10 A capias pro fine warrant may also be issued for a person who makes a plea agreement with a court and does pay in accodance with the agreement.11 In that instance a bond is not available. Either payment in full, a payment arrangement or an agreement to do community service must be made with the court to avoid arrest.
5. Receive A Revoked or Suspended Driver's License
The inability to exercise one's driving privilege is a possible consequence of what transpires in traffic court. Any person who fails to pay the assessed state surcharges from conviction based surcharges or because they surpassed the allotted six points in a three year time period can lose their driving license.12 Additionally, habitual offenders, persons who receive four or more points in a one year period or persons who receive seven or more points in a two year period, can lose their privilege to drive.13 A person who has been convicted of charges for driving while license is suspended or any charge that would indicate the person operated a motor vehicle while their license is suspended faces a potential longer license suspension.14 License renewal may be denied where a person fails to take care of their traffic warrants and the assessed state fees.15 A person who has a capias warrant due to their failure to pay court costs and fines in accordance with a court order also faces the potential revocation of their license.16
If like Ed you missed your court date, contact the Beecher Law Firm to see how we can assist you in the removal of your warrants and the protection of your driving privilege.
Author's Information: Attorney Tracey A. Beecher represents persons accused of class c misdemeanors and city code ordinance violations within the City of Houston Municipal Courts, Harris County Justice of the Peace Courts and Fort Bend County Justice of the Peace Courts.
Legal Disclaimer: Each person's situation and circumstances are unique. As such, this article is given to provide general information only. It is not legal advice nor is it intended as a substitute for legal counsel. Should the reader need legal advice or counsel, it is appropriate to seek the assistance of a licensed attorney.
2 Texas Transportation Code § 708.052 (a - b)
3 Id. at § 708.053
4 Id. at § 708.054
5 Id. at §§ 708.103 and 708.104
6 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 45.014(a)
7 Id. at Art. 45.015
8 Id. at Art. 45.016
9 Id. at Art. 45.014(g)
10 Texas Transportation Code § 706.006
11 Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 45.045
12 Texas Transportation Code § 708.151(c)
13 Id. at § 521.292(a)(3)
14 Id. at § 521.292(a)(1)
15 Id. at § 706.004(a)
16 Id. at § 521.294