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What Happens at Your First Court Appearance - Ticket Help Texas

Court Fines & Traffic Tickets

This article explains what happens in your first court appearance and what pleas mean.

Here, learn what happens at your first appearance in court for a class C misdemeanor or fine-only misdemeanor case in Texas. At your first court appearance, the judge will ask you to enter a plea, which is your formal response to the charge. 

This material was created by the Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed. Access the toolkit and related resources at

Pleading Guilty

What does it mean?
Pleading guilty is admitting to the crime. You will be convicted and sentenced that day. You lose the right to trial, but your case will be resolved more quickly.

What are the consequences?
You will usually be sentenced to pay a fine and court costs. There are alternative sentences like community service that the judge can impose if you can’t pay that day. Be sure to ask about those if you cannot pay. If you plead guilty but don’t pay your fines, you will often have a warrant issued for your arrest and will often not be able to renew your driver’s license until resolving what you owe. See I Received a Ticket That I Won't Be Able to Pay and I Can't Renew My Driver's License.

Also, if you plead guilty to driving while your license was invalid, or any traffic violation like speeding or running a red light that occurred while your license was suspended, you will likely have your license suspended for an additional period of time, somewhere between 90 days and two years. Convictions for other fine-only offenses, like certain offenses related to minors and alcohol, can lead to a driver's license suspension too. For more information on driver's license suspensions, see I Can't Renew My Driver's License.

If you wish to complete a driver’s safety course or other standard deferred disposition offered in that court, you may be required to plead guilty to do so; some courts will allow a no contest plea instead of a guilty plea (see below).

However, before you decide to plead guilty, you may want to ask to speak with the prosecutor. To do so, you will probably have to plead Not Guilty and come back to court on a different day to do so. You can suggest to the prosecutor a reason why your case should be dismissed or a reason why your fine should be lowered or waived. Sometimes a prosecutor will agree to lower your fine if you follow through with an agreement (like a promise to pay for car insurance or a defensive driving course).

Pleading No Content

What does it mean?
Essentially, this is very similar to a guilty plea. You are agreeing to be punished as if you were guilty without admitting your guilt. You will be convicted of a crime and sentenced that day. You will lose the right to trial, but your case will be resolved more quickly.

What are the consequences?
The consequences are basically the same as a guilty plea (see above).

One key difference between guilty and no contest pleas is related to a civil lawsuit arising from the incident (like if you hit another driver when you received the ticket and that driver is now suing you). If there is ever a civil suit filed against you, a no-contest plea cannot be used as an admission of your guilt, while a guilty plea can.

Pleading Not Guilty

What does it mean?
You do not admit to the offense and want to exercise your right to a trial where the state must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you committed the offense before you are convicted and punished.

Your case will be set for a trial at a later date (not the same day that you enter the plea), and your guilt or innocence will be determined at that later date.

When you plead not guilty, you have a right to a jury trial, meaning a jury will decide your guilt or innocence. You can decide whether you prefer a jury trial or bench trial, meaning the judge decides your guilt or innocence.  It is your decision whether you want to waive your right to a jury trial in writing, and you should not feel any pressure one way or the other.

You can decide based on your experience with the judge and court whether you feel a jury trial or bench trial will lead to the fairest outcome. You will not be asked to explain your reasoning.

What are the consequences?
Usually you will have a chance to speak with a prosecutor and attempt to resolve your case before trial. You may have to come back to court at another time (but before your trial date) to do this. When you talk to the prosecutor, you may be offered a deal and you must decide whether you prefer that deal over going to trial. If you decide to accept, one condition will be that you change your plea (from not guilty to guilty or no contest), and the trial will not take place.

Will I get a court-appointed lawyer?

You will not be appointed counsel to represent you in a fine-only misdemeanor case. Unless you can afford an attorney, you will have to represent yourself at trial. (Sometimes, it may be possible for a legal aid or nonprofit attorney to represent you for no cost in a fine-only misdemeanor case. For more information on free legal representation, see the Legal Help section.) 

What happens at trial?

At trial, you will have the right to present evidence of your innocence and ask questions of the witnesses against you. If you have documents or photos that help prove your innocence or witnesses that will testify for you, bring them with you on the date of your trial. You are not required to testify at the trial, and no one can force you to testify at your own trial.

You will be found innocent unless the jury or judge finds you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you're innocent, you will not owe anything. If you’re found guilty and convicted, you’ll be ordered to pay fines and court costs, same as someone who pled guilty or no contest. Your driver's license may be suspended as well for certain charges just like someone who pleads guilty. And a warrant may be issued for your arrest and you may not be able to renew your driver's license if you don't pay your fines. See I Received a Ticket That I Won't Be Able to Pay and I Can't Renew My Driver's License.

Note that if you’re convicted of assault family violence, either after pleading guilty or no contest, or after pleading guilty and being convicted at trial, you will have your fingerprints taken, and the conviction will be reported to DPS for inclusion on your criminal record.