Special thanks to Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed for this article.
First, set up a time to talk to the judge.
Call the clerk of the court and tell them your situation.
- Some courts have “walk in dockets” where anyone with unpaid fines can come talk to the judge without an appointment.
- Other times you will have to schedule a specific time and date.
Another option is to send a letter or email telling the judge about your circumstances and requesting a time to talk to the judge. This may be the best option if you live far away from the court.
Can the judge reconsider my ability to pay?
Even if the court previously determined you are able to pay the fine, you have the right to at least one additional hearing where the court must reconsider your ability to pay.
What if I am ordered to pay an "appearance bond?"
If you failed to appear when you were supposed to appear, some courts will ask you to pay an “appearance bond” to schedule a hearing.
- This bond is usually an amount double the fine that is charged to make sure you come to court; when you come to court, it is returned.
- The court cannot require you to pay an appearance bond if you cannot afford it. Tell the clerk that you need a personal bond instead because you are unable to pay the appearance bond. A personal bond is a promise to appear at a future date but that does not require the payment of any money that day.
- If the court insists you post an appearance bond that you cannot afford in order to see a judge, go to Documents and Forms and download the Personal Bond Letter.
- The court should not require an appearance bond if you’ve already appeared in court and been convicted, but just never paid what was ordered.
What does the judge need to know?
When you get to court, explain to the judge that you cannot pay the fine but want to resolve what you owe. If you haven't already been convicted, you will need to enter a plea at this time. Refer back to What Happens at My First Court Appearance? for plea options. If you want to be sentenced that day and discuss alternative sentences, you'll usually need to plead Guilty or No Contest to do so. Pleading Not Guilty will require you come back for a trial.
The same alternative sentences are available to you that are available to everyone else, including a payment plan, community service or waiver. The is true regardless of how much time has passed, even if you failed to appear in court, and even if you’ve already been sentenced to another alternative that you failed to complete. Refer to I Received a Ticket That I Won't Be Able to Pay and I've Been Ordered to Pay an Amount I Can't Afford for more on these alternatives.
The judge can only consider your ability to pay at the present time.
The judge cannot make you prove how much money you earned or your inability to pay at the time you received the ticket.
Instead, the judge should only consider your present ability to pay, at the time you are in court, when deciding whether you can receive an alternative sentence.
Will I get arrested if I show up to court?
Even if you have outstanding warrants related to these tickets or other tickets for fine-only offenses, you should not be arrested or jailed if you voluntarily show up in court to try to resolve what you owe.
However, if you have warrants for more serious offenses (like felonies or Class A & B misdemeanors), you could be arrested on those.