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Monthly Archives: April 2020

Advocates Call for Prison Reform as Prisoner Healthcare Costs Skyrocket

By Peek & Toland on April 29, 2020

A recent Texas Tribune article detailed the skyrocketing costs of prison inmate health care for the state of Texas over the past few years. State expenditures on healthcare costs for inmates were over $750 million during the 2019 fiscal year. This figure is a 53% increase from the 2012 fiscal year, in which inmate medical care cost less than $500 million.

A primary reason behind these increased costs is the aging of the prison population. Although the Texas prison population has shrunk by three percent, the number of inmates ages 55 and older has risen by 65%. Although this group of inmates accounts for only one-eighth of the total prison population, they are responsible for almost one-half of the hospitalization costs among inmates. For example, healthcare costs for the ten inmates with the most severe medical problems rose to over $3.1 million in 2019.

Advocates Call for Prison Reform as Prisoner Healthcare Costs Skyrocket

While state officials have taken steps to cut costs by using federally-funded prescription drugs and telemedicine, these measures are not enough. Advocates state that systemic changes, such as the paroling of older inmates and keeping individuals with mental or substance abuse problems out of prison, are necessary to contain the costs further.

Even as lawmakers continue to look for ways to reduce inmate healthcare costs, inmates in an ongoing federal lawsuit continue to maintain that the level of healthcare that the prison system provides to inmates is constitutionally inadequate. For instance, inmates contend that prison officials have denied them drugs that the medical community considers to be the standard treatment for Hepatitis C. The antiviral drug in question has a cure rate of over 90%. Nonetheless, prison officials reportedly only are providing the drug for inmates who already have liver damage from the disease.

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the cases of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges in the state of Texas. 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.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Despite Repeal of DRP, Problems Linger for Suspended Drivers

By Peek & Toland on April 27, 2020

During the last legislative session, lawmakers repealed the Texas Driver Responsibility Program (DRP), which assessed surcharges on traffic tickets that drivers received. When drivers failed to pay ticket fines and surcharges or enter a payment plan, they could lose their driver’s licenses.

Although the repeal of the DRP became effective September 1, 2019, problems still exist for drivers whose licenses were suspended under the DRP. Despite their efforts to reform the DRP, legislators did not make changes to the “Failure to Appear/Failure to Pay” program, which is administered at the local level. This program is often referred to as the “OmniBase program” because OmniBase Services of Texas operates the program and receives two-thirds of the $30 fee that the program adds to every reported violation. Under the OmniBase program, drivers cannot renew their licenses until they have resolved outstanding county or city court debt. Like the DRP, the OmniBase program has led many people being unable to drive legally due to their unpaid debts.

Despite Repeal of DRP, Problems Linger for Suspended Drivers

The DRP and the OmniBase program created the same problems for drivers with outstanding debts. They are unable to drive until they can pay the debts, and the programs added additional fines and fees when the debts remained unpaid. The only distinction is that while the DRP dealt with state-owned debts, the OmniBase program deals with county and city-owned debts. For the drivers, however, the outcome is the same. They are unable to drive legally due to the money that they owe the government.

While the repeal of the DRP resulted in some drivers being able to regain their driving privileges, many drivers still have no licenses due to the OmniBase program. Therefore, while reform efforts are moving in the right direction, the Texas legislature still must take further steps to eliminate driver’s license suspensions based on unpaid fees and fines related to traffic violations.

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 Traffic Offenses

What Constitutes the Reasonable Suspicion Necessary for Police to Stop a Vehicle?

By Peek & Toland on April 24, 2020

Police officers cannot stop drivers simply because they think they may have committed a crime. Under state law, police must have “reasonable suspicion” to stop a vehicle. Failing to have reasonable suspicion to support a traffic stop is a violation of constitutional rights.

Reasonable suspicion is a standard of proof, just like probable cause is a standard of proof that police must meet before conducting a search or making an arrest. However, reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard than probable cause. If a reasonable person would believe that a person is involved in illegal behavior, based on the facts and circumstances surrounding the situation, then reasonable suspicion exists. Police must be able to identify specific facts that led them to have reasonable suspicion that a person has, is, or will commit a crime.

What Constitutes the Reasonable Suspicion Necessary for Police to Stop a Vehicle?

Various situations can give police officers the reasonable suspicion required for a traffic stop. For instance, the police may have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle if they observe any of the following behaviors in drivers:

  • Speeding or driving below the posted speed limit
  • Failing to maintain their lanes
  • Running red lights or stop signs
  • Making illegal turns, braking frequently, or other traffic violations

Furthermore, state law requires that vehicles be safe and operated following state and local laws. If a driver has a headlight or brake light out, or a sticker on the vehicle has expired, the police may have the reasonable suspicion necessary to stop a vehicle.

When police officers do not have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle, they are violating the driver’s constitutional rights. As a result, any evidence that police obtained during the stop, such as illegal drugs, open containers of alcohol, or other indicators of criminal activity, can be excluded from consideration at a trial on the criminal charges. The prosecution cannot benefit from the wrongful traffic stop or any evidence that police collect during that stop. In some cases, an improper traffic stop can lead to the dismissal of criminal charges due to a lack of admissible evidence.

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.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Critical Developments in Trump Administration’s Fight to End OPT

By Peek & Toland on April 22, 2020

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program that originated during the Bush administration, and which all administrations have supported, at least up until now. OPT permits international students to work in the U.S. for a specific time following graduation from a college or university. Under this program, international students can work in the U.S. for 12 months after graduation. Students may be able to work for an additional 24 months in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. As the number of international students attending school in the U.S. has continued to decline, often in favor of countries that offer more generous post-graduate work opportunities, OPT is an essential tool for attracting and retaining this demographic.

Critical Developments in Trump Administration’s Fight to End OPT

The Trump Administration reportedly intends to propose a rule that will significantly modify the OPT program. The federal government’s stance on this issue allegedly stems from a desire to protect American jobs for American workers, rather than for international students. However, economists have found no correlation between the OPT program and a reduction in job opportunities for American workers.

Additionally, the OPT program is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Washington Alliance of -Technology Workers, which is arguing that the 70-year-old program is unlawful. Three different trade associations have intervened in the suit to protect OPT and the international students who regularly take advantage of the opportunities that it presents. Ironically, DHS also has defended the program, despite the Trump Administration signaling its inclination to end the program. A decision is expected in this court case in the coming months, as both sides have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

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.

Posted in Immigration Reform

Can I Get Discharged from Probation Early?

By Peek & Toland on April 20, 2020

In many cases, you may be able to request early discharge from probation after you have completed one-third of the probation period or two years, whichever is less. However, a judge is not required to consider your early discharge request until you have served at least two years or one-half of your probation period, whichever is more.

You have no right to early discharge, but if you meet specific qualifications, the judge may opt to grant you early release. On the other hand, the judge also can decide not to allow you early discharge, based on your circumstances.

Can I Get Discharged from Probation Early?

In addition to having completed a specific amount of time on probation before you can ask for early discharge, you must be current in your required payments toward restitution, fines, fees, and costs. However, in some cases, you may have a better chance of obtaining early discharge if you have paid off all court-ordered restitution, fines, fees, and costs. You must have completed all court-ordered counseling or treatment and fulfilled all other terms and conditions of your probation. These terms can vary widely from one case to the next.

The judge can consider various factors in determining whether you should receive an early discharge from probation. For instance, the judge may look at your:

  • Overall criminal history
  • The seriousness of the crime
  • Recommendations by your probation officer and prosecutor
  • The extent to which being on probation interferes with your employment or financial situation

If you are on probation for a few serious crimes, however, you may be ineligible for early termination. Some of the criminal convictions that are likely to disqualify you for early discharge from probation include DWI and other intoxication-related offenses, murder, sexual assault, sex crimes involving children, and any felony in which the court found that you committed with a deadly weapon. Aggravated robbery, burglary, and some drug crimes also can make you ineligible for this form of relief.

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.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Feds Consider New Rules Requiring Photographing of All International Airline Travelers

By Peek & Toland on April 17, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced its intent to publish a rule in July 2020 that would require all international travelers at airports to be photographed when they enter or leave the country. These photographs would then be put into a nationwide system using facial recognition technology. This requirement would apply not only to non-citizens but to American citizens, as well. DHS has provided no further details about how such a program might work or be used to assist the government in its efforts to deal with various immigration issues. However, in the past, DHS has hinted at using the technology to identify fraudulent usage of travel documents and potential terrorists.

Feds Consider New Rules Requiring Photographing of All International Airline Travelers

At least one legislator indicated that he would act immediately to propose legislation to block the measure for American citizens, citing previous data breaches by DHS. Although many airports are currently experimenting with facial recognition technology, American citizens have the right to opt out at this point, although few citizens exercise their right to do so. One report by DHS stated that facial recognition technology is one of the most effective and quickest ways to address border issues. The agency claims that the privacy intrusion posed by the technology is minimal, as the photographs are subject to deletion within 12 hours.

In the past, the federal government has repeatedly assured opponents of facial recognition technology that American citizens would be exempt from the procedures. The government now appears to have backtracked on those promises, at least at this point.

The immigration attorneys of Peek & Toland have the experience that you need when you are seeking any relief or benefit under federal immigration laws. We will determine the facts and evidence that are relevant to your case, evaluate your options, and help you decide the best course of action for your situation. We intend to place you in the best position possible to achieve your goals. Contact our Texas immigration attorneys at our office today and learn how we can assist you through this complicated situation.

Posted in Immigration Reform

Significant Changes at the U.S.-Canadian Border

By Peek & Toland on April 15, 2020

Amidst its massive overhaul of the current immigration system, the Trump Administration also quietly is implementing policy changes at the northern border with Canada. Although the spotlight remains on the U.S.-Mexican border, relations are growing tense to the north, as well. Heightened security at the border has changed the formerly collegial atmosphere into a much more formal inquiry.

These changes have resulted in growing frustration by people who frequently cross the border out of necessity. For instance, one small town lies partially in Canada and partly in the U.S. As a result, if people on either side must pass over the border to go to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment, they must check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, prove their identity, and answer questions. Even worse, the government recently installed a massive steel barrier in the middle of the town to separate the two countries.

Significant Changes at the U.S.-Canadian Border

As a result, illegal border crossings are on the rise, with an increase of 400% over the past two federal fiscal years. For instance, Mexicans and Romanians do not need to get visas to enter Canada. Therefore, rather than braving the deplorable conditions at the southern border and attempting to cross the Rio Grande, they simply are flying to Canada and paying smugglers to help them cross the northern border.

The number of asylum seekers entering Canada also has steadily increased as the federal government’s tolerance for these individuals has decreased. In 2015, Canada had just over 16,000 individuals arrive at its border and claim asylum. In 2019, that number was closer to 60,000.

No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases every day and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to resolve your immigration law case successfully.

Posted in Immigration

USCIS Proposed Changes to Premium Processing Program Likely to Cause Delays

By Peek & Toland on April 13, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated changes to its premium processing program by publishing a proposed rule in the Federal Register in December 2019. The proposed rule, if enacted, is likely to cause significant delays in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) premium processing of some employer-based immigrant and non-immigrant petitions. Premium processing allows employers to pay an additional fee to obtain a response to their petitions within 15 days. Due to the increasing backlog of immigration applications and petitions generally, however, USCIS has suspended premium processing for specific categories of visas at times as they are unable to meet the 15-day required response time.

First, DHS has proposed changing the definition of “day” for premium processing from “calendar day” to “business day.” Practically speaking, this definition change would exclude weekends, federal holidays, and days on which the federal government is closed due to unanticipated circumstances, such as weather. As a result, the premium processing period necessarily would take longer than it does now.

USCIS Proposed Changes to Premium Processing Program Likely to Cause Delays

An additional portion of the rule would relate to the termination and restating of the 15-day premium processing timeframe. Currently, if USCIS cannot make a final decision for an application or petition submitted via premium processing, USCIS will return the premium processing fee and continue to process the case. The revised rule would require a refund of the premium processing fees only if USCIS did not take specifically adjudicative action on an application or petition requested via premium processing within the 15-day timeframe. Furthermore, if USCIS takes some forms of adjudicative action, such as issuing a request for evidence (RFE) or notice of intent to deny (NOID), the 15-day clock will stop running. The issuance of either an RFE or a NOID instead will trigger a new 15-day period in which USCIS must adjudicate the application or petition.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal immigration matters of countless individuals and businesses. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our goal is to get the best outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

Posted in Visas

I-9 Form Mistakes for Employers to Avoid

By Peek & Toland on April 10, 2020

All U.S. employers must complete Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification entirely within three business days of every employee’s date of hire. They must maintain I-9 records for all employees so that those records are available for immigration officials and other federal authorities. As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) increasingly has been auditing employers in recent years, employers must have the required paperwork filled out and available for review. The fines for an I-9 form violation can be steep, ranging from $110 to $1,100 per error, employers cannot afford to be unaware of their responsibilities when it comes to completing and maintaining I-9 forms.

I-9 Form Mistakes for Employers to Avoid

Some of the most common mistakes that employers make concerning I-9 forms include failing to:

  • Have the employer and employee sign and date the form
  • Fill out Section 1 on the employee’s first day of work and Section 2 within three business days of the hire date
  • Properly examine and match the original identifying documents provided by the employee
  • Keep track of the employee’s work authorization expiration date and reverify the employment authorization on or before that expiration date

Employers also often fail to apply their photocopying policy concerning verifying documents consistently. Although the law does not require that employers make and maintain photocopies of the verifying documents that employees must produce to complete the I-9, if the employers choose to do so, they must do so uniformly for all employees. They also must keep the photocopies of the verification documents stored with each I-9 form.

Finally, employees and employers must take care to fill in all blanks on the I-9 form. Any missed signatures, dates, or checked boxes can result in a violation of the laws concerning I-9 forms, which can lead to substantial fines.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the immigration cases of countless individuals and businesses facing immigration-related issues. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf to get the outcome that you are seeking. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our immigration attorneys.

Posted in Immigration

Can I Be Deported for a DWI Conviction?

By Peek & Toland on April 8, 2020

Immigrants who are not U.S. citizens, whether they are present in the U.S. with no legal immigration status or hold legal permanent residence or green cards, can face deportation for various reasons. A conviction for some crimes, including DWI, could trigger removal proceedings.

Any convictions for drug crimes, offenses related to firearms, aggravated felonies, or crimes of “moral turpitude” could subject you to deportation. Although a single DWI conviction with no factors that would increase the sentencing would not necessarily have an impact on your immigration status, there are situations in which a DWI conviction might cause deportation proceedings.

Can I Be Deported for a DWI Conviction?

For instance, some aggravating circumstances might result in a felony charge. If you have a child under the age of 15 in the vehicle at the time of the offense, you can face felony DWI charges. Likewise, if you cause an accident resulting in significant bodily injury or death in the course of committing a DWI, you can face felony charges. These charges might qualify as “aggravated felonies” that could trigger deportation.

Likewise, if you have multiple DWI convictions over time, the charges and penalties may increase with each successive conviction. This situation also could result in an “aggravated felony” conviction that might result in removal from the U.S. if you are not a citizen.

If you already hold a green card and want to apply for citizenship, you also may encounter difficulties if you have a DWI conviction. A successful application for naturalization requires that you show proof of “good moral character” for the last five years. Individuals who have been convicted of a DWI within the previous five years may be unable to obtain citizenship as a result. If you or a family member is facing weapons charges or any other 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.

Posted in DWI

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