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Monthly Archives: August 2019

SCOTUS Strikes Down Portion of Federal Gun Law as Unconstitutionally Vague

By Peek & Toland on August 30, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in U.S. v. Davis, in which the Court struck down a portion of a federal gun law as unconstitutionally vague. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(b) makes it illegal to use a firearm during a crime of violence. This section defined a crime of violence as “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”

The penalties for violating § 924(c)(3)(b) are harsh. A first offense requires a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, and subsequent offenses require a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence. These sentences also can run consecutive to any sentences that they receive for the underlying crime.

SCOTUS Strikes Down Portion of Federal Gun Law as Unconstitutionally Vague

The Davis decision is quite narrow, however, as it focuses only on one small section of the pertinent code section. Nonetheless, the high Court held that the language in this code section provides no reliable way to determine whether a crime qualifies as a “crime of violence.” The Court thus concluded that the law as written is unconstitutionally vague.

The federal government argued for an alternate reading of the provision. However, the Court declined to adopt that interpretation, concluding that doing so would be making new law rather than applying the law that Congress enacted.

Justice Gorsuch joined the liberal members of the Court in striking down the provision, just as he did last year in another decision in which the Court found a statute unconstitutionally vague. The decision drew an intense and lengthy dissent from Justice Kavanaugh.

The decision resulted in remanding the case back to the Fifth Circuit to consider the requests of the defendants in this case for a full resentencing hearing.

An experienced Texas criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong defense against any criminal charges. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case and explore your options. We then can help you make the decisions that are mostly like to be beneficial to you, based on your situation. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

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Feds Seeking to Build Temporary Immigration Hearing Facilities in South Texas

By Peek & Toland on August 29, 2019

The U.S. has expanded the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “remain in Mexico” program. This program now includes the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border but lacks the infrastructure at that site to implement the program. Under this program, the U.S. sends migrants seeking asylum back to Mexico to have their asylum applications processed and await their asylum hearings. Confusion about the MPP program is abundant among migrants. The situation has become even more complicated for migrants as the federal government has ended the practice of providing immigrants with information about the asylum process and the immigration court system. As of late June, the government no longer allows attorneys or immigration advocates to conduct “know your rights” seminars to immigrants before their first asylum hearings. During July, the federal government cut off access to advocates or “friends of the court” to accompany immigrants to court hearings, who often explained basic procedures or provided translation services.

Feds Seeking to Build Temporary Immigration Housing Facilities in South Texas

To effectively implement the MPP program in El Paso, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are searching for locations to erect “virtual immigration courtrooms.” This move would allow them to hold more immigration court hearings. These tents or temporary, soft-sided structures would allow immigrants to have hearings in front of immigration judges via video conferencing. Each tent facility would house between 20 and 27 virtual courtrooms, all of which would process cases for individuals seeking asylum.

Federal officials reportedly are looking at locations in Brownsville, TX, Laredo, TX, and Yuma, AZ for these temporary structures. Local officials in Laredo are trying to persuade the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to utilize existing structures rather than erect large tents. DHS reportedly hopes to have these structured erected and operational in August 2019. Meanwhile, the population of migrants sent back to Mexico after submitting their asylum applications has swelled from about 2,800 to 7,600 in recent months. An experienced Texas immigration attorney can help you with all aspects of immigration law. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case and present your options. Finally, we can help you make the decisions that will be most beneficial to you, based on your circumstances. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

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New Law Strengthens Penalties for Switching Price Tags on Merchandise

By Peek & Toland on August 27, 2019

Governor Greg Abbott recently signed HB 427 into law, which will become effective on September 1, 2019. This law attempts to equalize the penalties for price tag switching of merchandise to those for shoplifting. Price tag switching is a means that individuals may use to pay less than the retail value of the merchandise that they are purchasing. By placing a tag with a lower price on an item before purchasing it, individuals may try to pay a lower price for it. The rising incidence of self-checkouts that go relatively unmonitored can make price tag switching a more successful and lucrative scheme. Like shoplifting, this practice causes a loss to the business owner.

New Law Strengthens Penalties for Switching Price Tags on Merchandise

Before the passage of this law, the penalty scheme for price tag switching did not take the value of the property lost to the business owner into account. Under the new law, penalties will depend upon the difference in cost between the actual retail price and the price that the individuals attempted to pay for the item through price tag switching.

Charges for price tag switching now can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony offense depending on the difference between the price marked and the price paid. For a difference that is less than $100, the crime is a Class C misdemeanor, which carries the potential for a $500 fine, but no arrest or jail time. For the offense to become a first-degree felony, however, the price differential must be $300,000 or more. Although it is far more likely that price tag switching occurs during the shoplifting of relatively inexpensive items, some may use the scheme at higher price points, as well.

The Peek & Toland criminal defense lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your criminal case. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your criminal defense issue.

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Law Shortens Period to Obtain Order of Non-Disclosure for First-Time DWI

By Peek & Toland on August 26, 2019

Over the past few years, the Texas legislature has passed legislation expanding the availability of orders of nondisclosure for some criminal offenses. An order of nondisclosure effectively prohibits public officials and their agencies from releasing information about specific criminal cases to the public. Recent changes to nondisclosure laws allow eligible individuals to seek orders of nondisclosure for first-time DWI convictions. For instance, individuals cannot get an order of nondisclosure if they were convicted of DWI as a Class A misdemeanor due to a high blood alcohol content (BAC).

There is a waiting period before individuals qualify to seek an order of nondisclosure for DWI and related offenses. These persons must wait two years from the successful completion of their sentences if the court required them to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicles for six months. If the installation of an IID was not a part of the court order, then these individuals must wait at least five years from the date that they completed their sentences.

Law Shortens Period to Obtain Order of Non-Disclosure for First-Time DWI

The most recent change to the waiting period required for an order of nondisclosure concerns individuals who receive deferred adjudication for a first-time DWI. This is a new means of resolving a first-time DWI that is newly available as a result of the 2019 legislative session. For individuals who receive deferred adjudication and otherwise qualify for an order of nondisclosure, the waiting period is somewhat different. Their waiting period expires two years from the date that they complete deferred adjudication community supervision, and the court dismisses the case. This change in the law takes effect on September 1, 2019.

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges, including traffic-related charges. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. As a result, we will strive to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our criminal defense attorneys.

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Despite Immigration Crackdown, More Immigrants Obtained Citizenship Last Year Than Ever Before

By Peek & Toland on August 25, 2019

As American immigration policies have become harsher, more and more individuals appear to be seeking citizenship. Historically, naturalization number peaked in 1996 and 2008, according to data provided by the Department of Homeland Security. During the first three quarters of 2018, however, 544,000 immigrants became naturalized citizens, which was a 15% increase over the numbers from the same time in 2017. Some of the growth may be attributable to immigrants who now find citizenship to be a more urgent matter or at least one that they should not further postpone. Some immigrants also cited the desire to vote in last year’s elections as the reason that finally prompted them to seek citizenship.

Despite Immigration Crackdown, More Immigrants Obtained Citizenship
Last Year Than Ever Before

The most recent estimates available from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) showed that in 2015, there were about 13.2 million legal permanent residents (LPRs) in the U.S. Nearly nine million of these LPRs would be eligible for naturalization, which typically occurs after individuals have maintained LRP status for five years or have been married to a U.S. citizen for three years. Naturalization also requires paying a $725 fee and passing a citizenship exam.

The Trump administration also recently announced that it would be making changes to the citizenship test that naturalized citizens must pass. As of March 2019, the pass rate is 90%. USCIS reportedly is focusing on making changes to the civics portion of the test, although it may make changes to the English part, as well. The test features 100 civics questions; prospective naturalized citizens must be prepared to answer at least six out of ten questions that they are asked. Nonetheless, some are questioning whether the new test will be in line with the Trump administration’s hardline stance on all forms of immigration, including those that are legal.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your immigration problems. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout the immigration process. Our knowledgeable immigration lawyers know the best strategies for gathering documentation to support your goals. Allow us to handle your immigration case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

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Potential Penalties Increase for Assaulting a Pregnant Woman

By Peek & Toland on August 24, 2019

Currently, an assault against a pregnant woman carries the same penalties as an assault against other persons. The only exception was for individuals who targeted pregnant women to induce them to have abortions, which results in enhanced charges. Both situations result in Class A misdemeanor assault charges that carry the potential for up to one year in jail. As of September 1, 2019, however, the penalties will increase for those who knowingly assault pregnant women.

Governor Greg Abbott recently signed House Bill 902 into law. Under this law, individuals who assault women whom they know or should have known were pregnant at the time of the assault can face third-degree felony charges. The penalties for a third-degree felony conviction can include a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years.  

Potential Penalties Increase for Assaulting a Pregnant Woman

The new enhancement to the assault statute for pregnant women closely tracks enhancements already existing in the assault law for certain classes of people who are the targets of an assault. For example, assault against public servants engaged in their official duties elevates the charge to a third-degree felony. Other classes of individuals that can trigger enhanced assault charges include:

  • Family and household members in some circumstances
  • Government contractors working in correctional facilities
  • Security officers
  • Emergency services personnel

Enhanced assault charges also apply to individuals who are committed to civil commitment facilities when they assault officers, employees, or contractors who work at the facilities. Other groups of people whose assault can result in enhanced charges include judges, peace officers, elderly or disabled persons, and sports participants, in some circumstances.

Peek & Toland dedicates a large part of its practice to assisting individuals in resolving their criminal charges. We know that criminal proceedings can be intimidating and overwhelming for those who are facing potential penalties for criminal charges. We will work with you to achieve the most favorable outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today and set up a consultation with our skilled criminal defense attorneys today.

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Immigrant Detention Numbers at All-Time High Thanks to New Facilities in Use

By Peek & Toland on August 23, 2019

According to recent statistics, the number of immigrants in detention is at a historic high. At last count, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were detaining more than 52,000 migrants, almost 1,000 of which are family units. In fact, in just two weeks, the numbers increased dramatically from over 49,000 to 52,000.  In the later years of the Obama administration, the average number of detainees hovered around 35,000.

Earlier this year, ICE requested 52,000 detention beds, but Congress limited the average daily population to 45,000. For the 2020 federal fiscal year, ICE is seeking detention beds for 54,000.

Immigrant Detention Numbers at All-Time High Thanks to New Facilities in Use

ICE now has drastically exceeded the limit that Congress set, quietly starting to ship detainees to three new privately-run detention facilities in Mississippi and Louisiana. Together, these facilities can house another 4,000 detainees, which represents a 50% increase in the detained immigration population in these states.

These facilities have poor histories, including three deaths at one facility and a 2012 riot at the Adams County, Mississippi, facility that left a guard dead. The Department of Justice recently announced that it would no longer house federal prisoners at the Adams County facility due to unsatisfactory conditions. As a result, ICE has opted to use the space for its detainees instead.

Furthermore, advocates have pointed out that immigrants in these facilities will be less likely to succeed in their asylum claims. There are insufficient numbers of judges in Louisiana to hear the new cases, and Mississippi has no immigration courts. A shortage of immigration lawyers in this area, and harsh results in existing immigration cases from these courts are likely to contribute to the denial of claims for most immigrants. In many cases, immigrants will be left to plead their cases before an out-of-state judge via video hearing.

Critics have pointed to the record-high numbers as a product of the Trump administration’s harsh policies, which have resulted in the creation of an avoidable humanitarian crisis.

Our goal is to assist you with your immigration concerns, whether family or business-based. We can evaluate your situation and develop a strategy that is most likely to be efficient and effective in your case. Regardless of the immigration matter that you are facing, the attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience, knowledge, and reputation that you want and need to advocate on your behalf. When results matter most, contact us at (512) 474-4445.

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New Texas Law Prohibits Mail Theft

By Peek & Toland on August 22, 2019

Texas is cracking down on porch pirates, or people who steal mail and other packages from people’s porches. The law covers both packages that mail delivery or standard carrier services drop off at people’s houses and boxes that people have left for pickup. Governor Greg Abbott recently signed House Bill 37 into law, which goes into effect on September 1, 2019.

Mail theft is a federal crime, but until the passage of this law, it was not subject to prosecution under state law. Previously, the only sanction for stealing others’ mail was a citation for a Class C misdemeanor, which could result in a maximum $500 fine. Class C misdemeanors cannot result in arrests or jail time.

Now, the offense can range from a Class A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, depending on the circumstances. For individuals who steal less than ten pieces of mail, the charge is a Class A misdemeanor. The maximum penalties for a Class A misdemeanor conviction include up to one year of incarceration and a fine of up to $4,000.

For individuals who steal between ten and 30 pieces of mail from different addresses, the charge is a state jail felony. A conviction for a state jail felony can result in a jail sentence ranging from 180 days to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. For more than 30 pieces of mail from different addresses, the charge is a third-degree felony, which can result in a prison sentence of two to ten years and a fine of up to $10,000.

New Texas Law Prohibits Mail Theft

Individuals can face enhanced charges if there is evidence that they were targeting the victim for identity theft, or if they were targeted elderly or disabled victims.

Critics of the new law say that the law does not consider the value of the mail or packages stolen. In some cases, the law could result in disproportionate penalties. Taking a package containing a less expensive item theoretically could result in harsher penalties than for those stealing a more expensive bicycle from someone’s driveway.

If you or a family member is facing any criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.

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Businesses Continue to Feel Impact of Crackdown on Approval of Foreign Worker Visas

By Peek & Toland on August 21, 2019

Two years following the signing of President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, U.S. businesses increasingly are feeling its impact. Companies traditionally have used the H-1B visa program to hire skilled foreign workers for three years. Now, however, this visa has become much more difficult to obtain for U.S. businesses. In 2017, the rejection rate for these visas was 13%. In 2019, the rejection rate now has risen to 32%. Likewise, the rejection rate for applications to extend the visas for an additional three years has increased from three percent to 18%.

One successful immigrant business owner has decided to quit seeking workers using the H-1B visa program. Previously, he recruited two people per year to work for his company under H-1B visas. Receiving several requests for evidence (RFE) in response to his applications has discouraged him from using the program at all.

Businesses Continue to Feel Impact of Crackdown on Approval of Foreign Worker Visas

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also has increasingly revoked H-1B visa applications often on the grounds of alleged fraud. For instance, when a healthcare staffing company tried to obtain H-1B visas on behalf of various clients, it took six months. By that time, the client already had moved on, unwilling to wait that long for foreign workers whose presence was not guaranteed. Once USCIS learned of the change, it accused the company of lying on its H-1B visa petitions and revoked them. Although there is no publicly available data on how often H-1B visas are revoked, it appears to some that revocations are becoming almost as universal as denials of these visas. The rising rate of revocation also discourages U.S. companies from seeking foreign workers using the H-1B visa.

Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration matter. The Texas immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland know how to help you navigate through the maze of immigration forms, regulations, and policies, and get the relief that you need. Take the first step today and secure the future of your family in the U.S. Contact our office today at and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

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Texas Establishes New Criminal Offense for Sending Unsolicited Sexual Photos to Others

By Peek & Toland on August 20, 2019

In June 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that criminalizes the sending of unsolicited pictures of “intimate parts” to others. The bill covers messages sent via texting, online dating applications, or through messaging platforms on social media.

A Texas legislator proposed the bill after the founder of the Austin-based dating app, Bumble, approached him about the lewd pictures that some users were sending through the app. Bumble is a women-focused app that permits only women to message men first, not the other way around. Bumble already bans shirtless selfies, nudity, drugs, and guns in the pictures that users can post online. While Bumble has banned and blocked any users reported to send unsolicited pictures of this sort, the problem has continued to increase. Bumble says ongoing problems with aggressive and unsolicited online communications through its app.

The new offense is a Class C misdemeanor, whose maximum sentence is a $500 fine. While law enforcement authorities may have difficulty enforcing the law, supporters are hoping that the law will make individuals think twice before sending unsolicited pictures. Now, if the recipient chooses, he or she could report the sender of the image to the police.

Texas Establishes New Criminal Offense for Sending Unsolicited Sexual Photos to Others

However, tracking pictures of genitalia sent from an anonymous email or Twitter account could be next to impossible. Furthermore, municipal courts and justice of the peace courts that typically prosecute Class C misdemeanors, like some traffic citations, are unlikely to have the resources. Prosecutors also are unlikely to prioritize these cases.

Defenses that individuals might raise are claims that someone else used their phone to send the picture, or that they or someone else sent it by accident. Determining whether someone negligently, accidentally, or recklessly sent a picture for their phone would be challenging, at best.

When you are facing any criminal charges in the state of Texas, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent your interests from the very beginning of your case. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and set up an appointment to speak with our legal team.

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