Monthly Archives: May 2017

Online Solicitation – Man Accused of Using Facebook to Solicit Austin Teen

By Peek & Toland on May 31, 2017

The rapid growth of social media sites like Facebook over the last decade has transformed crimes like online solicitation.

Recently, a man was accused of using social media to solicit a 15-year-old Austin girl for sex. Police say he allegedly traveled all the way from Maryland to Texas to meet her.

The TV station KVUE stated the arrest affidavit for 19-year-old Ryan Richard Heller, claims he used Facebook and Skype to send sexually explicit messages to the teen girl. Her father later informed police he told the 19-year-old to desist from talking to his daughter. He feared she would run away with him.

Austin police say Heller allegedly took a bus from Maryland on Dec. 30, arriving in Austin on Jan. 1. Officers were called to the area of Slaughter Lane and West Gate Boulevard, according to the affidavit.

Social media sites like Facebook are used for online solicitation

Facebook has been used for online solicitation

Heller was tracked down close to a church. The report said he informed officers he spoke to a girl on the computer. The KVUE report cited police documents alleging the 19-year-old knew the girl was 15 when he took the bus from Maryland for the rendezvous. Heller later told police he had inappropriate conversations with the victim, according to the affidavit.

Heller was arrested and charged with the felony of online solicitation of a minor. He was booked into Travis County Jail. The affidavit and jail records reveal he was being held on a $20,000 bond.

When Facebook is Used for Online Solicitation

Online solicitation crimes have increased in recent years via the growth of social media sites like Facebook. This offense is also referred to as “cyber-stalking” or “internet solicitation.”

In some cases, offenders are caught in ‘sting operations.’ A law enforcement officer may pose as a child and engage in a dialogue. These kinds of operations can be legally dubious if they stray into the territory of entrapment.

Online solicitation is a serious offense in Texas. Online Solicitation of a Minor can be a third-degree felony, carrying a possible sentence of 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

More serious cases are charged as a Second Degree Felonies carrying a sentence of 2-20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. People charged with the offense must serve 10 years on the sex offenders’ register.

If you have been charged with online solicitation, it’s important to hire a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call our Travis County Criminal defense team at (512) 474-4445.

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Austin Police Seize $2.1 Million in Liquid Meth

By Peek & Toland on May 30, 2017

Drug crimes frequently make headlines in Austin and elsewhere in Texas. In January, police said they discovered 65 pounds of liquid meth in the gas tanks of a woman’s car.

She was reported to be traveling from Mexico to the Dallas area.

The TV station KVUE reported Maria Bermudez Gutierrez, 45, a Mexican national, was pulled over by police officers for a traffic stop on Interstate 35.

Austin police said they discovered 65 pounds of liquid methamphetamine in the gas tank of her car. Officers said she failed to remain driving in her lane.

Police questioned Gutierrez and found inconsistencies in her reasons for traveling to the United States.

Austin was the scene of a liquid meth bust

Liquid meth is highly addictive

They asked Gutierrez if they could search her car and she complied, according to media reports.

Investigators said they discovered anomalies in the woman’s gas tank. They brought in a K9 team to search the vehicle for narcotics. After the K9 alerted police to the potential presence of drugs inside the tank, police called out a mechanic to inspect it.

Drugs officers said they discovered liquid crystal meth, with a street value of $2.6 million. It was concealed behind a partition in the gas tank of the car, stated police.

They said the quantities of liquid meth found could have impacted the Dallas community. Sgt. Greg White, Supervisor for the Organized Crime Division at Austin’s Police Department said:

“It’s a very dangerous drug. Not only for the health hazards, but [it’s] very addictive and leads to further crimes — you know people committing robberies and burglaries to support the drug habit.”

Gutierrez was booked in at the Travis County jail. She was later transferred to federal custody. The Drug Enforcement Agency is investigating the incident.

Liquid Meth – When Drugs Offenses Are Prosecuted as Federal Crimes

Many drugs offenses are dealt with at a federal level.  These include drug trafficking offenses which we describe here.

Drug trafficking carries very severe penalties. Typically drug traffickers are sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. The only drug offenses that are not deal with at a federal level are usually possession crimes.

Depending on the amount of an illicit drug in the defendant’s possession, the penalty for possession can range from a third-degree felony up to a first-degree felony. Read more about our experienced drugs defense here.

If you have been charged with a drugs offense call our Austin criminal defense lawyers today at (512) 474-4445.

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Austin DNA Lab Flouted Standards for Years, Report Finds

By Peek & Toland on May 29, 2017

We have written before about the closure of the Austin DNA lab and speculation that it would open again in early 2017.

However, hopes for a speedy reopening of the lab have been derailed. A recent report found the lab bucked DNA standards for years but was given a pass.

The new set of DNA guidelines that were drawn up in 2010, were noted in the Statesman.

The influential Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods came to the conclusion that analysts should concentrate on the quality of a sample as opposed to the quantity of the evidence gathered at a crime scene, before deciding if they could confidently create a genetic profile.

The Austin DNA lab closed last year following concenrs

Austin DNA lab is under fire

The article highlighted the little-known but alarming fact that forensic labs in the United States are not formally regulated. Instead, they are subject to a set of evolving standards.

The working group in tandem with the National Institute of Standards and Technology drew up best practices.

Over the following five years, the organizations held many training sessions, visited labs and carried out surveys.

The experts warned using older methods of DNA analysis led laboratories to be overconfident in their findings,. The result was improper criminal prosecutions. The report said by 2015, every lab in the United States adopted the improved methods except the Austin DNA lab.

The lab in Austin appeared to be working fast on its caseload. Then last summer, former Austin police chief Art Acevedo said the lab would close temporarily to allow analysts to correct problems uncovered in the reviews.

Austin DNA Lab Closure Could be Indefinite

The police department ordered the closure after concerns were raised by the Texas Forensic Science Commission. It found a lack of properly trained supervision and noted the requirement for the staff at the lab to learn the new federally required way of verifying DNA evidence.

Although the lab was meant to be closed temporarily, in December officials said it would close indefinitely.

The Statesman article cited interviews with workers that suggested the lab’s problems went back long before 2016.

Donna Stanley, the former DPS analyst originally hired to get the Austin lab off the ground more than 10 years ago, said inadequate methods were used for years.

The Statesman article warned a cluster of forensic facilities in Texas and across the United States suffered failures in the last decade. Shortcomings ranged from missing or stolen evidence, to substandard science and even faked results. These scandals have raised doubts about the science used to secure thousands of convictions.

Of just over 300 Texans exonerated for crimes, 142 — nearly half — were convicted based on misleading or false forensic evidence, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

A report on Channel 5 quoted police sources saying the DNA lab in Austin may not now re-open until 2018.

As experienced Austin criminal defense lawyers, we are alarmed by these revelations. If you believe your conviction is based on faulty forensic evidence, please contact us here.

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Bill Would Make Groping More Serious in Texas

By Peek & Toland on May 26, 2017

Groping may become a more serious offense in Texas if the Association Against Sexual Assault gets its way.

An article in CBS Austin highlighted how the organization claims offenders can land up in more trouble for shoplifting than for groping an adult in Texas.

In January, the news station highlighted the case of a 22-year-old who is facing a felony charge of indecency with a child. He stands accused of groping a 16-year-old girl on the ACC Riverside campus

ACC administrator Virginia Fraire claimed there was inappropriate physical contact between the students.

Association Against Sexual Assault Seeks to Beef up Groping Law

However, if the victim was 17, just a year older, the second-degree felony that Aldaco is facing would be a Class C misdemeanor.

ACC has banned the 22-year-old from its campuses, stated the news channel.

Chris Kaiser, director of public policy for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, told the TV station a Class C misdemeanor is the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

His organization is behind Senate Bill 339 which would establish groping as a Class A misdemeanor, leading to a year in jail and/or a $4000 fine.

Kaiser said there are only five states in the nation where groping will not land a perpetrator in jail. Texas is one of them.

The bill relating to groping was filed by Republican State Senator Charles Perry. He said a loophole appears to be present in Texas when it comes to groping. Perry said:

 “It is unthinkable that forcible groping and attempted rape is considered legally equivalent to a traffic ticket. Texas is one of only five states where these heinous acts are not punishable by jail time and SB 339 will increase the punishment to protect victims of these vicious crimes.”

Sexual Assault and Groping Laws in Texas

Under Texas sexual assault law, a “child” is defined as a person younger than 17 years of age. If physical violence was threatened or used to force the victim to submit or participate to the defendant’s actions, the act is considered by the law to have been without the victim’s consent.

In cases where the victim is unable to resist or is unaware of the nature of the act being performed, the law deems a lack of consent.

Consent is lacking in any situation where the defendant is in a place of power or charged with the care of the victim. A care home manager and a resident, a lawyer and a client, or a psychologist and a client are all examples.

If you have been charged with a sexual offense in Texas, our experienced criminal defense lawyers can help. Please call us at (512) 474-4445, or read more about criminal defense here.

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What is the Australia Refugee Deal With the United States?

By Peek & Toland on May 25, 2017

The little-known Australia refugee deal with the United States made headlines recently when President Donald Trump became involved in a contentious phone call with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The deal reached before Trump became U.S. president was the cause of the acrimony.

A report on CNN stated Trump is under pressure to reject the deal. He attempted to temporarily halt refugee arrivals and ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries in an executive order in January. The order was stymied by the courts earlier this year. A second order applying to six countries was issued in March. It also ran into legal difficulties.

Turnbull sought reassurance from Trump that he would honor the deal signed by the Barack Obama administration.

What is the Australia refugee deal?

Questions over the US-Australia refugee deal

For his part, Trump was said to be angry about the Australia refugee deal. Sources told CNN the U.S. president described it as “a very bad deal” and complained Australia was attempting to send “the next Boston bomber” to the US.

The agreement is seen as controversial because Obama put it in place shortly after Trump won the presidential election.

Obama and Turnbull agreed in November that Australia would transfer around 1,250 refugees. They are incarcerated in offshore detention centers on Pacific islands. The leaders agreed the transfer would be administered by the UN High Commission on Refugees. Turnbull has described the Australia refugee deal as a “one-off” agreement that would not be repeated.

What Are the Nationalities in the Australia Refugee Deal?

CNN reported most of the refugees are from the Middle East and South Asia. The majority are from Iran.

Most of the refugees were detained after they arrived by boat. They were brought to Australia by human smugglers across a dangerous sea route. Thousands more lost their lives.

About 80 percent of the people in the centers are judged to be legitimate refugees.

Refugees found themselves targeted by the Trump administration.

Earlier this year, a temporary ban on the admission of all refugees was blocked by the courts along with a travel ban from arrivals from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Trump was said to be working on a new ban. Those opposed to the executive orders are concerned temporary bans will effectively turn indefinite.

They believe all of the countries targeted, as well as programs for Syrian refugees and other refugees, will be unable to meet the vetting standards that Trump decides allow the temporary bans to be lifted. The seven countries in question are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

If you are seeking asylum in the United States, it’s more difficult now than ever. An experienced Austin family immigration lawyer can help you. Call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.


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Sanctuary City Austin Takes Shape After Raids and Threats

By Peek & Toland on May 24, 2017

The idea of sanctuary city Austin is taking shape amid a series of raids aimed at undocumented immigrants and the targeting of the sheriff’s department by the Texas governor.

Major raids intended to round up undocumented immigrants have taken place across the country including in the Texas state capital.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) started a series of raids in February in Austin when they rounded up dozens of undocumented immigrants.

ICE said the operation was part of a planned sting aimed at targeting people who pose a threat to public safety, border security or the integrity of America’s immigration system.

Sanctuary city Austin takes shape

The skyline of downtown Austin

In an interview with NPR, Austin mayor Steve Adler expressed his commitment to the idea of sanctuary city Austin.

Adler pointed out raids took place across the country in places where law enforcement officers don’t necessarily cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

He said it was right that suspects who are picked up by police in Austin should not be quizzed on their immigrant status. He said.

“Victims in our community feel free to come forward and seek help from our public safety, regardless of who they are. Witnesses to events and to crimes feel safe coming to our police because they know they can do that safely … what our police and our professionals tell us is, is that if they’re going to keep this community safe, they have to be able to preserve that relationship.”

The idea of sanctuary city Austin has been ratcheted up in a war of words between Texas governor Greg Abbott and Sally Hernandez, the new Democratic sheriff in Travis County.

War of Words Defines Sanctuary City Austin

Soon after her election, Hernandez kept a campaign pledge to scale back help to federal immigration agents by detaining suspects who may be in the country illegally.

Hernandez says she’ll only cooperate if a detainee is arrested for serious crimes like murder, sexual assault or human trafficking.

Abbott said he would withhold funding to Travis County unless the policies are reversed.

The Texas governor told Hernandez that if she does not reverse her policy Travis County will be disqualified from receiving grant money from the Criminal Justice Division (CJD).

Texas lawmakers are supporting a bill that would cut state funding to “sanctuary cities,” or those with policies or rules that impede federal agents apprehending people who may be in the country illegally.

If you are facing potential deportation, please call our Austin immigration lawyers today at (512) 474-4445.

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Homicides Spike 11 Percent in US Cities

By Peek & Toland on May 23, 2017

Violent crime continued to rise in many American cities in 2016, the second year in a row that saw a jump in homicides, aggravated assaults, and robberies.

Data from the Major Cities Chiefs Association pointed to a homicides spike in many major cities in 2016. The increase was compared to the previous year when murders also rose.

While Chicago makes for the most alarming gun crime headlines, Texas cities also saw significant increases in homicides last year.

Homicides spike in major US cities

In Dallas, for example, city officials cited drug crimes and domestic assaults as factors in the increasing crime rates. The Dallas Police Department created a 170-member violent crime task force comprising gang units, K-9, and narcotics.

Some smaller cities with historically low murder rates saw a spike in homicides. For instance, Arlington, Texas, had 4 homicides in 2015 but 18 last year.

The news station KVIA noted significant increases in the homicide rate in Austin and San Antonio last year.

The number of violent deaths in 2016 for Austin was the highest in nearly two decades when the city racked up 39 homicides, the most since 1997.

San Antonio police investigated 151 homicides in 2016. While the percentage increase was not as high as Austin’s, San Antonio has considerably more violent crime.

Homicides Spike in Austin and San Antonio

Drugs and domestic violence fueled San Antonio’s homicides spike, police said.

Various theories are put forward to explain the rise in violent crime. Last year, we noted the perceived link between an influx of cheaper heroin and violent crime.

The Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico was the biggest player in the market. However, the arrest of the gang’s kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in 2014 is credited with creating more violence. Rival gangs fought to fill the vacuum his gang left behind in U.S. cities.

There are other theories including the so-called “Ferguson effect.” This assumes police are backing off enforcement for fear of provoking racial tensions as occurred in Ferguson, MO in 2014 after a police officer shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.

Another less well-known theory is advanced in a recent article in Mother Jones which claimed childhood exposure to lead may be linked to juvenile delinquency later in life.

If you have been charged with a homicide or a serious drug offense like trafficking, you will be facing the loss of your liberty. It’s important to contact an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. Contact us here or call (512) 474-4445.

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Deportations Increased in 2016, States Department of Homeland Security

By Peek & Toland on May 22, 2017

The election of Donald Trump has renewed fears over mass deportations. However, Department of Homeland Security figures point to a rise in removals even before Trump arrived at the White House.

Figures released in December for the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 revealed the department apprehended 530,250 people in the United States and carried out 450,954 removals and returns of immigrants.

In 2016, border patrol picked up 415,816 people compared to 337,117 in 2015. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 114, 434 immigrants, compared to 125,211 the previous year.

The Department of Homeland Security in its press release said more people were apprehended in previous years, notably from the 1980s to 2008.

Deportations rose in 2016

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said the Obama administration was continuing to concentrate on deporting people who pose a threat to public safety.

He said:

“In FY 2016, we continued to better focus our interior resources on removing individuals who may pose threats to public safety—specifically, convicted criminals and threats to national security. “

President Obama took a relentless approach to deportations, particularly in the early years of his administration.

A report on ABC News noted in April that he deported more people than any other president of the United States.

From 2009 to 2015, the Obama administration removed in excess of 2.5 million people through immigration orders.

The figure does not include people who “self-deported” or were turned back at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

George W. Bush deported about 2 million people.

Deportations May Rise under President Trump

Donald Trump promised to deport as many as 2-3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. It would represent one of the biggest round-ups in U.S. history.

Before the election, he floated the removal of as many as 11 million illegal immigrants.

You can read some of the important questions about Trump’s immigration reforms here.

If you have a concern about any aspect of immigration in Texas or are facing deportation, we can help. Call our Austin cancellation of removal lawyers today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Immigration

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More than Five Million Children in the United States Have Unauthorized Immigrant Parents, Research Finds

By Peek & Toland on May 19, 2017

More than five million children in the United States are growing up with unauthorized immigrant parents and it places them at a disadvantage, according to research.

Growing up with unauthorized immigrant parents means children are more likely to be exposed to poverty, limited English and lower preschool enrollment, states the Migration Policy Institute.

As many as a quarter of all children in the United States under eight-years-old are from immigrant families.

About 30 percent of these children grow up with unauthorized immigrant parents. Most of these children were born in the United States and are citizens.

millions of children have unauthorized immigrant parents

More than five million children have unauthorized immigrant parents

However, they grow up with the uncertainty of knowing that one or both of their parents may be deported. Many of these kids enter schools with unique needs that are different from those of U.S children overall.

Their challenges are different from those of children of lawful immigrants.

The report stresses they may face “linguistic isolation.” They are growing up in households that lack English proficiency and it affects their progress.

About 27 percent of children with unauthorized immigrant parents are limited English proficient. That compares with 16 percent of children of all immigrants.

The research from the Migration Policy Institute found the children of undocumented parents are far more likely to grow up in high poverty levels. While many children of immigrants fare well in the United States, it is not the same for children of unauthorized immigrant parents who are not legally able to work.

As many as three-quarters of children with undocumented parents are from low-income families at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. This compares to 51 percent of all children of immigrants and 40 percent of all children in the United States.

The report suggests a lack of advancement into higher-paying jobs for children of undocumented immigrants stems, in part, from their parents’ unauthorized legal status.

Last year, a report from the Pew Center found the percentage of children of undocumented immigrants is increasing in schools.

In 2014, about 3.9 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students were from undocumented families.

This was more than 7.3 percent of the total school population. The figures reflected an increase since the end of the recession in 2009 when these students numbered 3.6 million and accounted for 6.6 percent of the total.

At Peek & Toland , we fight deportations and aim to give families a more certain and hopeful futures.

If you require help with an immigration matter in Austin or elsewhere in Texas, please call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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The NFL’s Problem with Domestic Violence is Exposed

By Peek & Toland on May 18, 2017

Domestic violence is a major issue in Texas as well as across the United States. It’s also a problem among some of America’s highest paid stars in the National Football League.

Headlines linking leading football players to alleged acts of domestic violence are plentiful.

In 2015, New York Giants kicker Josh Brown was charged with assaulting Molly, his wife at the time.

The New York Times cited police reports that alleged Brown assaulted her nearly two dozen times, including at least once when she was pregnant.

Brown was arrested in May 2015. He was charged with fourth-degree domestic violence. The charge was later dismissed. Brown was suspended for the opening game the season, instead of the baseline six games the NFL usually levies for a first domestic violence offense.

NFL players are linked to domestic violence

The Brown allegations resurfaced in news stories in October 2016 when the player admitted domestic violence in letters, emails, and a journal, according to police documents.

The Giants said they were unaware of Brown’s writing and had not read or heard about them before their release.

The revelations again raised questions about how seriously the league takes domestic violence. The league said it investigated the matter for 10 months, sending in a crack investigative team.

Players who have been accused of domestic violence and sexual assault include:

Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer

On Sept. 17, 2014, Dwyer was reportedly arrested for domestic violence offenses and charged with aggravated assault against his wife and 18-month-old child.

Dallas Cowboys Receiver Dez Bryant

Bryant was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic assault charge in Texas after he allegedly assaulting his mother. A judge later dropped the charges on condition he attend anger management counseling.

Baltimore Ravens Running Back Ray Rice

Rice was arrested in 2014 after a fight in Atlantic City with his fiancée. Video footage showed him dragging her out if an elevator while she was unconscious.

The player was indicted on third-degree aggravated assault charges, but he pleaded not guilty. He was sentenced under a pre-trial intervention initiative for first-time offenders. The NFL initially suspended him for two games but he received an indefinite suspension when more video evidence was obtained.

Former Dallas Cowboys Player C.J. Spillman

The former Cowboys special-teams player was sentenced to five years in prison last year over a sexual assault charge from a 2014 incident at a Dallas hotel.

Grapevine police said a woman reported that Spillman raped her in September 2014, at the Gaylord Texan Resort, where he was staying at the time.

Domestic violence offenses are taken very seriously in Texas. You can read more about the law in Texas here on our website. If you are charged with domestic violence in Texas, it’s important to hire an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

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