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Monthly Archives: May 2018

Violent Crime Rose Three Percent in Austin in 2017

By Peek & Toland on May 31, 2018

Austin has a reputation for being one of the safest big cities in Texas. It’s a reputation that has been tested by rises in violent crime in recent years.

In a recent article, The Statesman reported the number of violent crimes in Austin in 2017 rose approximately 3 percent over 2016.

However, the figures are based on calculations by Austin police through July 2017.

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley outlined new crime figures at a city Public Safety Commission meeting in late 2017. They are derived from the Uniform Crime Report, a compilation of crime data from the FBI.

How violent crime rose in Austin

Violent crime rose in Austin

The definition of violent crime in these statistics is:

  • Homicides
  • Sexual assaults
  • Aggravated Assaults

Violent crimes concern the citizens of Austin and elsewhere more than property crimes. In 2016, many American cities saw sizeable rises in violent crimes. However, the pattern was more mixed in 2017, according to provisional figures.

Measures to tackle violent crimes were discussed at a local and a national level in 2017.

In Austin, police records showed 2,601 violent crimes were committed by the end of July 2017. These crimes included 16 homicides, 565 robberies, 489 sexual assaults and 1,531 aggravated assaults.

The figures represent a rise of 76 incidents over the 2,525 violent crimes reported over the same period in 2016.

The police chief said the major violent crimes to see a rise in recent years are robberies and aggravated assaults, although the year-on-year robbery rate fell up to July 2017.

Austin was hit by a series of nine bank robberies in the first half of 2017. Manley said criminals are committing robberies that follow a pattern, targeting the same kinds of businesses as victims.

The violent crime rate for the whole of 2016 in the city was 435 crimes for every 100,000 people. The annual rate was higher in 2012 when it hit 447 violent crimes per 100,000 people. It fluctuated at about 400 from 2013 through 2015.

Violent crimes carry the heaviest sentences in Texas. If you have been accused of an offense of this nature, it’s important to contact an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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How to File a Waiver when a Marriage Between a U.S. Citizen and an Immigrant Ends in Divorce

By Peek & Toland on May 30, 2018

If you have received a two-year conditional permanent resident card based on the condition that you married a U.S. citizen, you must remove the conditions on the green card before the expiration date. If the marriage between a U.S. citizen and an immigrant has ended in divorce, you may seek a waiver.

In order to remove the conditions, you must apply for a Form I-751 Application for Removal of Conditions.

You will usually file this petition jointly with your spouse but you may seek a “waiver” of the requirement to jointly file if you are no longer married to the US Citizen spouse who you obtained conditional permanent residence through.

In cases where immigrants are no longer married to the US Citizen spouse through which they originally gained conditional permanent resident status, it’s more difficult to prove you entered the marriage in good faith.

How you file a waiver

How to file a waiver after a divorce

These applications are known as I-751 Waivers. The applicant must request a waiver of the joint-filing requirement.

It stands to reason that immigration officials will more carefully scrutinize I-751 waiver applications than if they are filed jointly with your spouse. They will look for evidence that the original marriage was not bona fide.

You should not assume your application will be refused. However, it’s imperative to prepare a strong application with numerous documents proving that you entered your marriage in good faith even though it failed.

Relevant documents include photographs with your former spouse, evidence of continuous cohabitation with your former spouse, evidence of joint finances, as well as liabilities and other shared assets.

If you fail to satisfy the immigration officer with the supporting documentation, or you claimed abuse during the marriage, you may be scheduled for an interview.

In the case of I-751 waiver, preparation is vital. A strong application backed with plenty of supporting documentation will help your case. An experienced Austin permanent residency lawyer will help your case by advising you on the appropriate documentation you will need.

The typical processing time for these waiver applications ranges from six months to a year, depending on the complexity of your case. In some cases, I-751 waiver applications may take longer than 12 months to be decided.

For a consultation contact our Austin family immigration lawyers here or call us today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

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Police Officer was Shot in San Marcos

By Peek & Toland on May 29, 2018

Texas has seen a series of fatal police officer shootings over the last two years. However, when a police officer was recently shot in San Marcos it represented the first officer killed in the line of duty in the police department’s history.

Kenneth Copeland, a 58-year-old veteran was tragically killed in December 2017. He was serving an arrest warrant for a violent crime, reported KXAN.

Police said shortly after officers arrived at a home in the El Camino Real subdivision a man started firing at them. Copeland who was wearing a protective vest was shot in San Marcos numerous times and succumbed to his injuries. He was working on what should have been his day off.

Police officer shot in San Marcos

Police officer was shot in San Marcos

Chief of Police Chase Stapp said another officer took Copeland to the Central Texas Medical Center in San Marcos, where medical staff tried to save his life. The officer was pronounced dead later on the same day.

The suspect surrendered to police after a standoff with the San Marcos/Hays County SWAT team. He suffered a gunshot wound and was taken to South Austin Medical Center where he was under guard.

The police said Copeland worked just about every day off to provide for his four kids and because the department was shorthanded. Shootings directed against police are common in Texas. Earlier this year, three officers were hurt in a convenience store shootout in Laredo. In July 2016, a sniper in Dallas shot five police officers dead during a Black Lives Matter rally.

The massacre led the state of Texas to pass a law that makes all targeted crimes against police officers or other emergency responders hate crimes.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said it was his intention to create a culture of respect for law enforcement. He backed a campaign to educate young Texans on the value police officers bring to communities.

Under the legislation, the penalties for threatening peace officers or judges were upped from a misdemeanor to a felony, punishable by 180 days to two years in prison.

Crimes against police officers have continued. In July, a police officer was fatally shot in San Antonio and another was seriously injured.

If you have been charged with a crime against a police officer or another hate crime, you should contact an Austin criminal defense lawyer. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Royal Bride Meghan Markle Faces a Major Tax Bill if She drops U.S. Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on May 28, 2018

Every year thousands of people become U.S. citizens. However, some people seek to relinquish citizenship. It’s a move that can carry a hefty price tag.

The United States is one of the only countries to tax based on citizenship. Even if you are living abroad you must pay taxes.

The issue was recently highlighted in relation to Meghan Markle, an American citizen who is engaged to marry Britain’s Prince Harry.

A CNBC report noted it’s tempting for expats to renounce their U.S. citizenship so as they don’t pay taxes. However, it’s a move that comes at a heavy price.

Americans living abroad must pay U.S. taxes. That can make it tempting for expatriates to renounce their citizenship and skip U.S. tax rules. Doing so comes at a price.

According to Joshua Ashman, a co-founder and partner at Expat Tax Professionals, there are some very complex tax considerations.

Royal Bride to Drop U.S. Citizenship

Royal Bride Faces Tax Bill for Dropping U.S. Citizenship

Ashman provides professional tax services to U.S. expatriates. He pointed out people who want to renounce their citizenship must make an appointment at a U.S. embassy, sign the relevant forms and take the Oath of Renunciation.

They must also pay a hefty $2,350 administrative processing fee. Once an application is approved, a process that can take several months, you receive a Certificate of Loss of Nationality.

Ashman pointed to a further issue. When you give up your citizenship, you must notify the Internal Revenue Service via Form 8854 that you have expatriated. You may then be liable to pay exit tax. The exit tax looks at the asset’s value and assesses taxes as if it were sold.

The high cost of giving up U.S. Citizenship has not prevented a record number of Americans giving it up, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2016 alone more than 5,400 Americans either gave up citizenship or terminated long-term residency. The figure was a 26 percent increase on 2015.

Although more people are giving up U.S. citizenship, far more immigrants are seeking it.

There are numerous benefits of citizenship. It often makes sense to hire an attorney to help you with the process.

At Peek & Toland , an Austin citizenship attorney can take over the whole complex and bureaucratic process for you and help you embark on a secure life in a new country. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship

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Members of White Supremacist Gang in Texas Are Sentenced to 20 Years in Federal Prison

By Peek & Toland on May 25, 2018

One of the largest prosecutions of a white supremacist gang has taken place in Texas where prosecutors sentenced 89 people.

In a press release, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Dallas said it wrapped up what is believed to be the largest prosecution in U.S. history of people linked to a white supremacist gang in 2017.

The investigation was led by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s gang unit and the Dallas Police Department’s criminal intelligence unit.

Other investigating agencies included ICE, the police department in Garland, the Collin County Sheriff’s Office and Texas police departments in Mesquite, Denison, Sherman and Sulphur Springs.

The press release from John Parker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said the 89th and last defendant to be sentenced was Jeramy Weatherall, 29, of Dallas, Texas.

white supremacist gang members jailed

Members of white supremacist gang were sentenced

He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle in August to 20 years in federal prison. In March 2017, he admitted one count of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

Federal authorities said 89 people were convicted of the gang-related crimes. One remains a fugitive and is thought to be in Mexico. Another died before the trial started.

The 89 people who were convicted received a total of more than 1,070 years in a federal prison. Casey Rose, a 36-year-old from Mesquite in Texas was sentenced to life in federal prison after he was convicted in September 2015 of conspiracy, drug trafficking, and firearms charges.

U.S. Attorney Parker said the operation effectively wiped out the white supremacist gang. He said:

 “The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the Aryan Circle have essentially been decimated in North Texas. The outstanding collaborative work of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Dallas Police Department helped ensure that each of the 89 defendants who were arrested have now been convicted and sentenced.”

Interim Dallas Police Chief David Pughes hailed the operation as a “great example of the success of local and federal law enforcement working together” along with the United States Attorney to ensure career criminals were brought to justice.

The defendants were members of a variety of right-wing gangs including the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT), the “Irish Mob,” the Aryan Circle, the “Dirty White Boys,” the “White Knights,” and the “Peckerwood.”

The investigators said all of these are violent white supremacist gangs.  The press release said each of the gangs is an organized crime group. In recent years, the white supremacy ideology of each of the groups has become less important than traditional criminal ventures, such as drug dealing.

If you face gang or drugs charges, you are likely to be facing a long prison sentence. Please call our Austin criminal defense lawyers for representation at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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Texas Homeowners Decline to Report Crimes

By Peek & Toland on May 24, 2018

You are more likely to be a victim of a property crime than any other kind of offense. However, a substantial number of homeowners decline to report crimes, a recent study suggests.

A report by Property Baron found about 11 percent of Texans do not report property crimes.

One of the main reasons these crimes are not reported is a fear they may impact home values.

A report in Cleburn Times-Review noted some Texans don’t think it’s worthwhile to report property crimes.

How homeownrs decline to report crimes

Homeowners decline to report crimes

Security Baron spokesperson Joe Auer said the figures are concerning.

“You’d think that homeowners would be very security conscious, and want to protect their homes, but not, it would seem, at the expense of losing money on a sale down the line.”

The report suggested higher numbers of people are reporting crimes in Cleburne south of Fort Worth.

Information taken from the 2016 Cleburne Police Department annual report found that although the state average for reporting property crimes was 2,831 reports, it was 3,077 in Cleburne.

Rob Severance, the Cleburne Police Chief, said victims of property crimes should make a report even if there is no suspect known to police or workable leads.

Property crimes often entail theft, one of the most common offenses in Texas.

The degree of punishment for a theft depends on the value of the property that’s stolen.

If you are accused of the theft of property worth less than $100 you will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

Theft of property valued between $100 and $750 is a Class B misdemeanor. Stealing property worth over $750 but less than $2,500 is a Class A misdemeanor.

Property crime rates have fallen in recent years in Texas. Part of this decline is attributed to better security systems on cars and street cameras.

The Texas Department of Public Safety notes the number of property crimes reported in 2014 stood at 804,555. Property crimes fell by 6.5 percent from 2013. Burglaries accounted for 20.7 percent of all property offenses.

The majority of these crimes were larcenies and thefts which accounted for 70.9 percent. Motor vehicle theft was a mere 8.4 percent. The property crime rate in 2014 was 2,988 crimes per 100,000 Texans, a fall of 8.2 percent against the rate for 2013.

Given the reluctance of some Texans to report crimes, the overall figure may be slightly higher. If you have been charged with a property crime, call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Fort Worth Police Are Accused of Selling Guns to the Public

By Peek & Toland on May 23, 2018

As violent crime spiked in Fort Worth in 2017, police sought to curtail a spate of shootings with a gun buyback program. However, Fort Worth police came were also accused of selling firearms to the public.

A report in Reveal News noted police announced a buyback program in May 2017. At one event over the summer of 2017, police offered a $50 gift card to anyone who turned in a gun in an Aldi parking lot.

Reveal News stated a group of people nearby sought to outbid Fort Worth police.

The article also drew attention to a potentially more serious issue.

Fort Worth police are accused of selling guns to the public

Fort Worth police are accused over guns

Over the last decade, the department sold more than 1,100 of its used firearms to licensed gun dealers. Those dealers then sold them to the public. It seems Fort Worth wasn’t the only police force to do this.

Reveal and the Texas Standard found that 21 of Texas’ 50 largest law enforcement agencies routinely sell used guns to the public. At the same time as the police are conducting buybacks to get these weapons off the street, they are effectively setting up a pipeline of guns going back into communities which are seeing rising homicides.

The investigation revealed some of these former police weapons are high powered firearms.

They are carefully maintained, fairly new and often come at a nice discount. Military-grade weapons are even available.

Hundreds of guns and semi-automatic rifles were offloaded whether from the Garland Police Department or the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. They included Mini-14 and AR-15 weapons.

Fort Worth police sold automatic German-made MP5 submachine guns, the report stated.

The Dallas Police Department sold Colt Commando assault rifles.  The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office offloaded an Uzi among prospective buyers and sold it for a mere $250. It’s a model that could fetch over as much as $3,000.

These police departments sell their firearms to help them afford new ones. In stark contrast, agencies such as federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives destroy their weapons. The agency cites public safety.

The extent to which these ex-police guns are used in crimes is unclear, reported Reveal.

The public used to know when former police guns were used in crimes. Since 2003, a law passed by Congress has prohibited the release of trace information.

If you have been charged with a gun crime, you should talk to an Austin weapons crimes lawyer. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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Outcry as ICE Arrests Immigrants in New York City Courts

By Peek & Toland on May 22, 2018

The issue of ICE agents picking up undocumented immigrants in unrelated court proceedings has proved to be a contentious flashpoint under the Trump administration.

In December, a court building in Brooklyn became the latest flashpoint in the immigration tussle.

A report in The Nation noted Genaro Rojas-Hernandez was attending a criminal court for an unrelated assault charge. He is an undocumented immigrant.

He was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at the court. The Nation article claimed the incident highlighted a new constitutional crisis unfolding in New York’s criminal-justice system.

ICE arrests in New York

ICE Arrests in the Big Apple are Under Fire

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president in January 2017, courts in New York City saw a massive 900 percent spike in the number of immigrants who were targeted by ICE immigration agents.

While the immigrants would usually be taken into local custody, they are instead being picked up by the feds. Activists accuse the president of attacking the rights of migrant communities as well as constitutional justice itself.

The Nation report noted women seeking temporary protective orders, the survivors of human trafficking, and others dealing with family disputes may be picked up by ICE agents.

The report accused ICE of becoming the judge, jury and the jailer of migrants who come to court to deal with a wide range of issues from domestic violence to traffic infractions.

According to the Immigrant Defense Project, 112 ICE arrests and near-arrests were documented in the New York area in 2017.

Of these, 15 were found to be legal migrants who hold green cards.

New York is not the only place to see undocumented immigrants arrested in courts by ICE agents.

In February 2017, the arrest of a transgender woman who was claiming to be a victim of domestic violence by ICE agents at a courthouse in El Paso caused an outcry.

According to CBS News, County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal stated the undocumented woman received a protective order over a domestic violence claim. Judge Joe Gonzalez gave her a protective order. She filed three police reports. The last report claimed she was the victim of an alleged assault with a weapon.

Media reports stated ICE agents followed the woman into the hallway after the hearing. They arrested her and she was removed an immigration detention facility.

Bernal complained an immigration arrest of this nature had not happened in the two decades she worked at El Paso courthouse.

Our Texas family immigration lawyers help people who are facing deportation and their families across the state. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal

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Trump Calls on Congress to End Diversity Lottery Visas

By Peek & Toland on May 21, 2018

Diversity visa lotteries were under fire even before they were linked to terrorists.

In the wake of last year’s New York terrorist attack, the diversity lottery program appears to be living on borrowed time.

Congress enacted the diversity immigrant visa program almost 30 years ago in 1990. The program is random. It uses a lottery system to issue up to 50,000 green cards every year to people from countries which send few immigrants to the United States. Millions of people apply annually for a chance to win a diversity green card and the chances of winning the lottery are slight.

In the fall of 2017, President Donald Trump called on Congress to abolish the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Program.

Sayfullo Saipov an ISIS sympathizer accused of committing the Halloween terror attack in Lower Manhattan that left eight dead and 11 injured, entered the United States from Uzbekistan through the visa lottery program in 2010.

Diversity Lottery Visas

Diversity Lottery Visas are Under Fire at Congress

Investigators said Saipov informed them he was inspired to conduct the attack by Islamic State videos. He faces federal terror-related charges.

Saipov is accused of driving a rental truck down a crowded New York City bike path.

A report on Fox News claimed as many as six foreigners linked to terror entered the country through the diversity visa lottery.

Trump branded the Green Card lottery a disaster for the country but it remained in place by the end of 2017.

Trump said:

“This program grants visas not on a basis of merit, but simply because applicants are randomly selected in an annual lottery and the people put in that lottery are not that country’s finest.”

He claimed the program presents significant vulnerabilities to America’s national security.

Supporters of the program say it is being unfairly targeted because recipients go through the same vetting as everybody else.

The green card lottery program was originally set up under Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services distributes the diversity visas among six geographic regions. No one single country is allowed to receive more than seven percent of the available visas in any one year.

If you have any pertinent questions related to the diversity lottery program, please contact our experienced Austin immigration attorneys and speak with an expert green card lawyer today. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Immigration Reform

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Texas Man was Targeted by Gunman in Burnet County

By Peek & Toland on May 18, 2018

Self-defense is a defense to many crimes in Texas if it’s proportionate to the offense. Recently, in Burnet County, a man said he disarmed and beat unconscious an attacker who targeted his family.

A man from Cottonwood Shores said his family was targeted by a gunman as he drove along RM 1431 in Burnet County.

The American-Statesman reported he disarmed and beat unconscious the assailant who he said was aiming at his wife and son.

Johnny Henderson told the Statesman he and his family were shaken up but not hurt after the attack. He said an off-duty police officer shot and wounded the gunman and Henderson jumped him. Henderson broke his hand in the ensuing fight.

Henderson said he was not sure what provoked the attack. However, it seemed to be tied to road rage. Authorities did not release the name of the police officer involved or the 55-year-old suspect. The Burnet County declined to say whether the suspect, who was hospitalized after the attack, had been arrested.

Man battles gunman in Burnet County

Texas man fights gunman in Burnet County

Road rage incidents occur more often than we might think in Texas. On occasions, they turn deadly.

Henderson told the Statesman he was driving with his wife and their 17-year-old son back to their home south of Marble Falls last December. He took his son to a tour for prospective students at the Art Institute of Austin. Henderson said he drove past a red Camaro stopped in the road.

Henderson said the Camaro raced up behind them after they passed it and rammed the Hendersons’ Ford Explorer twice. Genice Henderson was driving. She put her foot on the gas to avoid the Camero driver. Both cars spun off the road, away from each other.

Henderson told the Statesman he then got out of the SUV and walked down the road toward the Camaro. He thought it has been in a serious wreck. Another passing car stopped nearby. Henderson said he spoke to the driver, but was not aware he was an Austin police officer.

He said the Camero then drove up close to him and the driver pulled out a gun. Henderson said he tried to pull the trigger. However, the gun didn’t fire.

His wife and son had a few moments to hide in the bushes.  Henderson said the Camero driver then opened fire.

The driver of the other car then approached and yelled that he was an off-duty police officer. He ordered the driver of the Camaro to drop his gun.

Henderson said the two men then exchanged gunfire. Henderson said the shooter was injured but continued to crawl toward the bushes where his wife and child were hiding.

Henderson, who is a personal trainer and former MMA fighter and boxer then jumped on the shooter and beat him unconscious.

Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley said after the incident, what transpired on the road highlights how police officers are never really off duty.

We note on our website how assault can be a serious offense in Texas. However, self-defense can be a defense. If you have been charged with an offense, call our Austin criminal defense attorneys for experienced representation at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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