Drivers can find out if they have one or more traffic tickets in the state of Texas by looking for the ticket on the website of the agency that issued them. The agency may be a city police department, a county sheriff’s department or a traffic-related state office, such as the Texas Highway Patrol. The Texas Highway Patrol is under the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Typically, to look up the ticket, an individual should have the offender’s driver’s license number or ID number, date of birth and first and last names.
Methods of Payment for Texas Traffic Tickets
A court will state on its website the ways that a defendant can pay a traffic ticket. For example, City of Houston Municipal Courts allow a defendant to pay in-person, by phone online, by mail and via Western Union. There are rules for each type of payment; for example, online payments require a processing fee.
A Western Union payment should be made using the Quick Collect delivery service. Some methods, such as phone, post the payment to the defendant’s account immediately. Other methods, such as online payment, may take between one and three days to post to the account.
Penalties for Failing to Pay
Penalties for failing to pay a traffic ticket include not being able to renew a Texas driver’s license, issuance of a warrant for the offender’s arrest, receipt of a failure to appear citation, and having to pay additional warrant fees. In order to avoid facing these penalties, the offender or their attorney should reach out to the court as soon as possible to learn how to handle the ticket.
If the court date has already passed, the offender should ask for a new date. Some courts hold walk-in hours where offenders can speak to a judge without an appointment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain courts, like the municipal court of Mesquite, are holding virtual walk-in courts.
What to Do in Court
When an offender goes to court to pay a ticket for a traffic violation, they have several options: enter a plea of not guilty, guilty or no contest. A defendant who enters a plea of not guilty will then request a trial and have their case set for a pretrial hearing at which they can speak to the prosecutor.
A defendant who enters a plea of guilty or no contest will have the opportunity to take a driving safety course, such as a defensive driving course, and enter into a payment plan. They will also be able to explore opportunities for a compliance dismissal.
A compliance dismissal involves an offense relating to a failure to maintain financial responsibility. The Texas Transportation Code allows the court to dismiss the offense if the defendant shows the court verified proof of financial responsibility at the time of the stop. A defendant who enters a plea of guilty or no contest can also explore whether they are eligible for a deferred disposition. A deferred disposition is a type of probation that can result in the dismissal of a case. When a defendant has a poor driving record, such as a criminal history with DWIs or DUIs (driving while intoxicated or under the influence) or multiple speeding tickets incurred within a short time frame, a prosecutor may choose not to offer them a deferred disposition.
Deferred Disposition Process
The probation period for a deferred disposition may be up to 180 days. A defendant must finish the term of probation, pay all fees and satisfy any other requirements of the court. If the defendant completes the probation successfully, they will not have a conviction for their case, and the complaint in the case may not be used against the defendant for any purpose.
When an individual comes to court, they may also request an extension of the due dates for payment of fees. Further, the individual may seek the resolution of outstanding warrants from the court by establishing a payment plan.
Rules for In-Person Court
Typically, a defendant must come on time for in-person walk-in court. They should check the court’s website for court check-in time. The check-in time stops when the court session begins, so the court may choose not to admit late arrivals. Courts typically have specific entry procedures and a dress code. A defendant should read these rules before attending court, so the court won't refuse them admittance. For example, Mesquite’s municipal court does not allow a defendant to wear a hat or pajamas to court.
After a defendant appears before the judge, they are required to stop by the clerk’s window to sign the court order. This step finalizes whatever actions the judge has taken in their case. If the defendant fails to sign the court order, the court can issue a warrant for their arrest.
Rules for Virtual Court
A defendant may be able to access court proceedings via live stream through YouTube or another software application. There are rules for virtual walk-in court. Virtual walk-in court requires that individuals come on time for proceedings. The court should provide a link to attend virtual court. A defendant should read the rules on the court’s website before choosing to attend court this way.
After a defendant appears virtually before the judge, they will receive an email notifying them of the court's order. They must sign this order immediately. If they do not do so, the court can issue an arrest warrant. The clerk of court may call the offender if there are special instructions from the judge on the case. The defendant should be ready to answer the call.
After the defendant signs the court order, the court will send them a second email with a copy of the signed order for their records. If the defendant has questions about the order, they should call the court clerk at the number specified on the court’s website. If the judge of the virtual court orders the defendant to complete a driving safety course or compliance dismissal, the defendant must pay the applicable fees immediately after their virtual court appearance. They can do this by calling the clerk of court.
Remove a Driver’s License Hold
A court will put a hold on a person’s driver’s license if the ticket calls for the offender to come to court, but the offender does appear in court and takes no other action to resolve the ticket. A hold limits the offender’s ability to legally drive and to renew their license. An offender can have the hold removed by filing an appearance bond and paying a set fee per violation to the court that placed the hold on the license.
Out-of-State Drivers and Tickets
An individual who applies for, or renews, a Texas driver’s license will see DPS query other states as to whether their driver’s license or driving privilege has been withdrawn. An individual who cannot operate a motor vehicle in another state will not be issued a Texas driver’s license until their driving privilege in the other state is reinstated. An individual with a Texas driver’s license can see their Texas license suspended, revoked or cancelled if they commit an offense out of state and do not resolve the citation.
Sometimes the individual may request a hearing to contest the revocation. Before they attempt to renew a Texas driver’s license or get it reissued, they must show proof of payment for the out-of-state citation and payment of a reinstatement fee to Texas. If the individual commits an offense in another state that would be grounds for suspension or disqualification in Texas, they should request a hearing to contest the suspension or disqualification. If the individual has a Texas driver’s license, they may see their license remain suspended or revoked until they get a “clear” or “eligible” status from the other state’s driver licensing agency.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.