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Monthly Archives: October 2019

What Constitutes Criminal Trespass Under Texas Law?

By Peek & Toland on October 30, 2019

Under Tex. Pen. Code § 30.05, individuals commit criminal trespass when they enter or remain on property belonging to others without consent or after receiving notice that entry was forbidden or notice to leave, and failing to do so. Notice under this code section can include written or oral communications from the owner or someone with control or authority over the property. However, notice also can be in the form of fencing, signage, properly placed purple paint marks, or the visible presence of a crop grown for human consumption.

What Constitutes Criminal Trespass Under Texas Law?

Criminal trespass generally is a Class B misdemeanor under state law. However, the offense becomes a Class C misdemeanor if committed within 100 feet of a boundary of agricultural land or 100 feet of a freshwater area on residential property. In some circumstances, however, criminal trespass is a Class A misdemeanor offense, such as if individuals commit the crime:

  • In a habitation or shelter area, Superfund site, or on or in a critical infrastructure facility
  • In or on the property of an institution of higher education, when individuals have a previous conviction for trespassing on the property of an institution of higher education
  • While carrying a deadly weapon

This code section specifically provides a defense for some individuals to prosecution for criminal trespass. These individuals include firefighters and emergency service personnel acting in the course of their official duties, employees of utilities, pipelines, and telecommunications or video services providers in the performance of their duties. Individuals who were employed by entities that they believed had consent to enter the property and were performing their employment-related duties also have a defense to prosecution. Certain defenses to prosecution also exist if individuals legally possessed firearms or ammunition, and the only basis for the trespass is that firearms or ammunition were not permitted.

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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Changes to the H-1B Visa Process

By Peek & Toland on October 29, 2019

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a final rule that made changes to the regulations that govern H-1B cap-subject petitions. This rule became effective on April 1, 2019. This rule reversed the order that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses to select H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption. The changes are designed to increase the number of selected petitions for H-1B workers who have a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. college or university.

DHS reportedly made these changes in response to the Trump Administration’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order. This order instructed DHS to propose new rules to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the immigration system. More specifically, the order directed DHS to reform H-1B vis program administration to help ensure that H-1B visas go to the foreign workers with the most skills and who are the highest-paid.

Changes to the H-1B Visa Process

These changes, along with the increased amount of scrutiny that USCIS is placing on H-1B visa petitions, require significant preparation for U.S. employers who wish to submit H-1B visa petitions. Employers who expect to participate competitively in the H-1B visa program must take steps early in the process to ensure that their applications are complete. They also must take precautions to avoid requests for further evidence from USCIS. These requests serve only to substantially slow down the processing times of applications, which can be fatal to an employer’s ability to hire foreign workers using the H-1B visa process.

As a result of these changes, employers likely are to need the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer who can assist them through the often lengthy and complicated process of submitting petitions for H-1B visas. Since the application process is fraught with potential pitfalls, employers must start earlier than ever in preparing their applications. They should begin preparations even if they have not yet determined their lottery eligibility.

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 Gun Laws Go Effective September 1

By Peek & Toland on October 28, 2019

As of September 1, 2019, several new or updated gun laws have gone into effect in the state of Texas. First, property owners associations cannot prohibit or restrict the possession, transportation, or storage of firearms or ammunition. They also may not place restrictions on the discharge of firearms. Likewise, school districts may not regulate how licensed handgun owners store their handguns, firearms, or ammunition in their vehicles while parked on school property. Residential lease agreements also cannot restrict the possession of firearms by tenants or their guests.

The Texas Legislature also established a defense for licensed handgun owners who unwittingly enter businesses or places that prohibit guns by positing signs. This defense is available to these individuals so long as they promptly leave the premises when requested to do so.

New Gun Laws Go Effective September 1

Under a new law, it is not illegal for citizens without licenses to carry to possess handguns while evacuating from or returning to declared state or local disaster areas. Disaster shelters also may accommodate evacuees who have firearms.

Carrying firearms is no longer prohibited in churches, synagogues, or other places of religious worship. These entities can determine whether they wish to permit firearms on their premises, just as private property owners can.

Other updated or new provisions in the law concerning firearms concern the ability of foster parents to store guns and ammunition in the same locked locations in their homes and the number of armed school marshals a school district or open-enrollment charter school may appoint. The legislation also updated language in the Government Code concerning the carrying of firearms on property owned or leased by a government entity.

Aside from these changes and additions, gun laws remain relatively lenient in the State of Texas. Gun owners are not required to obtain licenses or register their firearms, although they are required to obtain concealed carry permits. There also are no laws on the books in the state that restrict assault weapons or large-capacity magazines. However, individuals must be at least 18 to purchase rifles.

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 charges.

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What Constitutes a Weapon for an Unlawfully Carrying Weapons Charge?

By Peek & Toland on October 27, 2019

Tex. Pen. Code § 46.02 establishes the criminal offense of unlawfully carrying a weapon. Individuals commit this offense when they:

  • Intentionally or recklessly carry a handgun while they are not on their property, on property within their control, or in or en route to a motor vehicle or watercraft that they own
  • Intentionally or recklessly carry a handgun in a motor vehicle or watercraft that they own and
    • The handgun is in plain view and not legally in a shoulder or belt holster
    • The person is engaged in criminal activity other than a Class C misdemeanor offense
    • The person is prohibited by law from possessing a handgun
    • The person is a member of a criminal street gang
  • Intentionally or recklessly carry a location-restricted knife, if they are:
    • Younger than age 18, and they are not
    • On their premises or premises under their control
    • Inside or en route to a motor vehicle or watercraft that they own, or
    • Under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian
What Constitutes a Weapon for an Unlawfully Carrying Weapons Charge?

Under this code section, weapon refers to a handgun or a location-restricted knife, which is a knife with a blade of more than five and one-half inches. Up until the most recent legislative session, this section also referred to a club as a weapon.

This offense generally is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the illegal carrying of a location-restricted knife as detailed above is a Class C misdemeanor. However, the crime becomes a third-degree felony if committed on any premises licensed to sell alcohol. The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the cases of countless individuals who are facing criminal 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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When Does a Drug Offense Become a Federal Charge?

By Peek & Toland on October 26, 2019

State and federal laws largely overlap when it comes to drug crimes. Both state and federal law prohibit the possession, manufacture, and distribution of illegal drugs. As a result, a drug crime typically can be prosecuted under federal or state law. On the whole, however, penalties for a federal drug conviction generally are more severe than those for a state drug conviction.

However, there are some circumstances in which you may end up facing federal drug charges rather than state drug charges. For instance, if federal authorities arrest you instead of state or local authorities, you are more likely to face federal drug charges. If you are arrested on federal property, you also may face federal drug charges. Likewise, if you are caught with a large amount of drugs, federal authorities may seek to prosecute you at the federal level as opposed to the state level.

When Does a Drug Offense Become a Federal Charge?

Another situation in which you may face federal instead of state drug charges is if you crossed state lines in committing the crime. For example, if you allegedly trafficked drugs from Texas into another state, or brought drugs from another state into Texas, the crime arguably affects interstate commerce. Therefore, the federal government has jurisdiction to prosecute the crime. Likewise, if you are accused of participating in a large-scale multi-state drug operation, you likely will face federal rather than state drug charges.

Furthermore, if you allegedly are involved in a drug scheme that goes beyond mere possession, such as trafficking or manufacture of illegal drugs, you may face federal drug charges instead of state drug charges. Similarly, if you are charged with others in a conspiracy to distribute or manufacture drugs, you also routinely may be charged at the federal rather than the state level.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your criminal proceedings. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout your case. Our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers know the best strategies for defending you and working toward your desired objective. Allow us to handle your criminal case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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What Are the Penalties for Using Counterfeit Money in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on October 25, 2019

Counterfeiting money is illegal under both state and federal law. Under Texas law, creating or using counterfeit money falls under the criminal offense of forgery. Tex. Pen. Code § 32.21 defines forgery as forging a writing with the intent to harm or defraud another. Forging refers to any alteration or creation of a writing that purports to be authorized when it is not. A writing explicitly includes money, so counterfeiting money constitutes forgery.

Forgery is typically a Class A misdemeanor, but for specific types of writing, including government documents and money, forgery is a third-degree felony. Individuals also may face elevated penalties for forgery if the victims of the forgery is an adult who is age 65 or older.

What Are the Penalties for Using Counterfeit Money in Texas?

Furthermore, the offense may become even more severe if the accused individuals participated in the forgery to obtain or attempt to obtain property or services. For instance, if the value of the property or services that individuals tried to purchase with counterfeit money was worth between $150,000 and $300,000, the offense is a second-degree felony. If the value of the property or services that individuals attempted to purchase with counterfeit money was worth more than $300,000, then the offense becomes a first-degree felony.

A conviction for a third-degree felony under Tex. Pen. Code § 12.34 can result in a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years and a $10,000 fine. Individuals also may have serve time on community supervision as a result of a third-degree felony forgery conviction.

Forgery of money, or counterfeiting, also can result in federal criminal charges. The penalties for federal criminal convictions often are more severe than those for state criminal convictions.

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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Congress Calls on DHS To Explain Immigration Backlog

By Peek & Toland on October 24, 2019

In the past few months, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship convened a hearing to demand answers from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about the continual increase in immigration processing delays. Currently, there is a 2.4 million application and petition backlog, which is the largest it has been since processing delays that occurred following September 11, 2001. These delays have had a significantly detrimental impact on some applicants, including families suffering from prolonged separations due to the delays. Businesses also are losing key employees and abandoning new projects as a result of these extensive delays.

Many attribute the continuing delays to new policies and procedures that the Trump Administration has enacted. These policies are creating more red tape and administrative burdens on petitioners, as well as constant requests for more information and increases in denial rates.

Congress Calls on DHS To Explain Immigration Backlog

According to USCIS officials, demand typically increases before a presidential election and then dips back down to more normal levels. In this case, demand increased in 2016, but the anticipated decrease has yet to occur. As a result, USCIS is understaffed for the demand, which the agency characterizes as unprecedented.

USCIS officials also noted that a backlog existed before the election, but has increased. They also stated that new security policies and requirements have necessitated closer scrutiny of documentation and more personal interviews, which have contributed to the backlog.

USCIS claims that increased fees to support increased hiring, technological processing developments, and shifting existing staff and workloads all could help address the backlog. Still, USCIS officials admit that addressing this level of a backlog will take a significant amount of time.

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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What Happens at an Arraignment?

By Peek & Toland on October 23, 2019

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees individuals who are accused of a crime to hear the charges that the government has filed against them. During an arraignment or initial pretrial hearing, you will listen to the criminal charges that you are facing so that you are fully aware of them. An arraignment is the first step of the formal criminal court process. In many cases, the court will hold an arraignment within 72 hours of arrest. If you have posted a bond before you have an arraignment scheduled, however, then it may be a few weeks before the court holds your arraignment. 

What Happens at an Arraignment?

The judge also will ask you at your arraignment whether you intend to hire an attorney or if you want the court to appoint you a lawyer. If you qualify for a court-appointed attorney, the judge will appoint you one. The judge will ask you to enter a formal plea to the charges that you are facing. At this point, you can enter one of the following pleas:

  • Guilty, if you are admitting that you committed the crime with which you are charged, in which case the judge will sentence you immediately
  • Not guilty, if you deny that you committed the crime with which you are charged, which will prompt the court to schedule a trial date in your case
  • Mute plea, in which you do not respond to the question. In this case, the judge will enter a not guilty plea on your behalf.
  • No contest plea, in which you do not dispute the charges against you, but you also do not admit that you committed the crime

A judge also will set bail at an arraignment or deny bail, based on the severity of the crime. The purpose of bail is to make sure that you show up at all scheduled court dates and proceedings. If you don’t show up as expected, you risk forfeiting the bail that you paid. The judge also will go ahead and schedule various court dates for conferences, hearings, and trial. 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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Rate of Notices of Inspection to U.S. Employers Continues to Increase

By Peek & Toland on October 22, 2019

As of the end of July 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials had issued almost 3,330 Notices of Inspection (NOI) to businesses across the United States. Experts fully expect that number to climb to 5,000 before the end of this ICE audit blitz.

An NOI initiates a government inspection of the I-9 Forms that a company has on file for all its workers to determine if the company is complying with federal laws. The point of these inspections is to ferret out immigrant workers who have no legal authority to work in the U.S. These civil administrative audits are one of many tools that ICE potentially can use to combat unauthorized workers. Other enforcement tactics include civil penalties and criminal prosecution.

Rate of Notices of Inspection to U.S. Employers Continues to Increase

ICE issues most NOIs based on tips and leads that they receive stating that a business may be employing unauthorized workers. ICE also appears to be targeting companies with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” immigrant worker policy. Employers always should take these NOIs seriously; in 2017, for instance, Asplundh Tree Expert Co. was ordered to pay $95 million in fines due to its use of unauthorized immigrant workers.

When an employer receives an NOI, it has three days to respond and provide the requested documents to ICE. Upon good cause shown, the employer may ask and receive an extension of this period. According to the NOI, the business must produce valid Forms I-9 for each current worker and each terminated employee during the retention period for the forms. Along with these forms, employers also must provide lists of employees, payroll records, E-Verify information, and more.

Failing to timely or fully complete this task can result in fines of up to roughly $2,300. For each unauthorized worker that ICE finds a business has employed, the penalties can range from about $600 to $23,000 per worker.

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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Harris County Reaches Bail Reform Settlement

By Peek & Toland on October 21, 2019

According to the Texas Tribune, commissioners in Harris County, Texas, have agreed to settle a federal lawsuit over how it sets bail for defendants in criminal court cases. Federal courts previously had held bail practices unconstitutional in Harris County. Although new and old county judges have been working to alter the bail system dramatically, the lawsuit remained pending. The settlement, which is estimated to cost up to $97 million, has several essential features:

  • Establishes a new policy of automatic no-cash pretrial release for about 85% of low-level criminal defendants
  • Adds legal and social services for indigent defendants and assistance with transportation to court dates

Historically, the bail system was meant to ensure that criminal defendants would reappear in court as ordered if released before a trial on their criminal charges. The most popular form of bail was cash bail, which was an amount set by the judge based on the severity of the crime. Defendants could pay the entire bail amount would receive a refund from the court at the end of their cases if they appeared at all their hearings as scheduled. If defendants couldn’t pay bail, they sometimes could pay a nonrefundable percentage of the bail amount, which is usually about ten percent, to a bail bonds company. Based on the guarantee by the bail bonds company that they later would appear for court hearings, the defendants could be released from jail.

Harris County Reaches Bail Reform Settlement

Under the previous bail system, some low-level defendants bailed out of jail immediately, whereas others would serve days in jail for the same offense because they could not afford bail. As a result of the federal court ruling, court officials must schedule bail hearings within two days of arrest. Defendants then can ask the court to lower the bail amount or release them without bail.

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

Posted in Criminal Defense

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