Some of you may have gotten “warrant round up” notices in the past several weeks. Texas’ Warrant Round Up started February 15, 2017 and it will last several weeks.
Over three hundred agencies participate in Warrant Round Up. Austin Municipal Court and many of the justice courts (JPs) in Travis County participate. If you have a warrant that is not in one of these jurisdictions, you can still be arrested for your warrant during this time, but it will just be coincidental instead of part of the coordinated effort these other jurisdicitions are undertaking.
Warrant Round Up focuses mostly on Class C misdemeanor warrants. Class C misdemeanors are the lowest level misdemeanors in Texas law and they are punishable by fine only, usually up to $500.
However, there are some instances in which you can be taken to jail for a Class C misdemeanor. I will deal with two here.
I. Failure to Appear: “Open” Tickets
If you receive a Class C ticket, and you fail to appear and it remains open, meaning no action has been taken since the issuance of the citation, in most jurisdictions a warrant will issue. In some courts, you may also be charged with a subsequent Class C offense of Failure to Appear. You will have a warrant on that new Failure to Appear as well. You can be taken to jail on these “open ticket” warrants. What happens when you are arrested for these kinds of warrants depends on the jurisdiction. For an Austin Municipal Court ticket, you may be given the option of pleading guilty at magistration at the jail and agreeing to pay the ticket, or you may be given a court date if you plead not guilty and told to appear in Austin Municipal Court. For Travis County tickets, you may be taken to the court of jurisdiction, which may happen the next business day depending on what time of day you get arrested.
If you have Class C tickets that are “open”, there are several options on how to dispose of those and get the warrants cleared. Some are better than others. Here are some of them:
1) You can always plead no contest and agree to pay. In Austin Municipal Court, you can go to the courthouse or satellite stations and do this without having to fear being arrested. There are drawbacks to this option of which you should be aware. Simply telling a court staffer you want to plead guilty and pay the ticket waives any chance you have at negotiating the fine down with a court prosecutor. You will pay the full amount plus some extra court costs for letting it go to warrant. Secondly, depending on the charge, there may be collateral consequences for pleading no contest. Pleading no contest to driving while license invalid, no drivers license, or failure to maintain financial responsibility where you already have one conviction could trigger a license suspension and will cause surcharges on your license to be assessed. If you did not have an eligible driver’s license at the time you got a moving violation, and you pay it, this could trigger a DPS departmental suspension of your license because you are admitting by paying the ticket and pleading no contest that you were driving without a license.
2) You can post bond with the court and put your case back on the docket. This will allow you to speak with the prosecutors at a court date and negotiate to pay less and potentially keep it off your record, avoiding any collateral consequences that could come with a conviction. This may be an expensive undertaking as bond in some courts can be double the fine.
3) You can hire an attorney to designate on your cases and put them back on the docket. Usually this is done by sending a letter to the court in which the attorney says s/he’s going to be responsible for the case. Sometimes, the attorney has to post an attorney surety bond with the court. Once this happens, the warrant will be rescinded, and the attorney will appear in court for you, speak with the prosecutor in that court, and get a deal worked out for you. Many times this deal will allow you to keep a conviction for the Class C off your record and will be cheaper to resolve than just simply paying the ticket. I am available to do this work across the state of Texas.
II. Commitment Warrants – Satisfying the Judgment
If you receive a Class C ticket and there has been a judgment -- ie, you have pled no contest or been convicted at trial – you have to pay or otherwise satisfy that judgment. If you do not, a “commitment” will issue. This is a kind of warrant. At that point the ticket is no longer “open”. It is in “commitment” status. That means you cannot change your mind under most circumstances and change what you agreed to pay or even that you agreed to pay. Its done; you simply have to fulfill your obligation as agreed.
If you’ve already pled on your citation and have agreed to pay, but you cannot, you can sometimes go back to the court and ask to be put on a payment plan for an amount you can pay per month. Often times this agreement will be enough for the court to rescind the warrant. In extreme circumstances, you can ask the court to find you indigent and allow you to do community service at a non profit, non religious, non political charitable organization. If you are asking for a court to find you indigent, it is important to bring documentation to support your claim you are indigent. Tax returns, pay stubs, or proof that you receive government assistance can help prove to the court that you are indigent. You can also get jail credit applied to these tickets if you have been to jail while these warrants were active – even if it is was not holding you or you were not arrested on these warrants specifically. How much credit a day in jail will give you depends on the court.
It is easier by far to take care of warrants prior to hearing the knock on your door. At that point, your only option will be to pay the ticket or go to jail for several hours or even a few days depending on the jurisdiction. Don’t wait for that to happen. If you would like to speak with me regarding your Class C warrants, I am happy to do a free phone consultation to run down what your options are.