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Monthly Archives: June 2020

When is a Person Incompetent to Stand Trial?

By Peek & Toland on June 30, 2020

Criminal defendants must be legally competent to go through a court trial in the state of Texas for the criminal charges that they are facing. If they are incompetent, they cannot stand trial for the criminal charges until they have become competent in the future.

To be competent, defendants must be able to consult with their attorneys with a reasonable degree of understanding. They also must have rational and factual knowledge of the proceedings against them. If the evidence shows that defendants lack either one of these capacities by a preponderance of the evidence, then they will not be competent to stand trial.

When is a Person Incompetent to Stand Trial?

Either the defendant’s defense attorney or the prosecutor may raise questions about whether a defendant is competent. The court also may initiate an inquiry into whether a defendant is competent. At this point, the court questions the defendant informally to determine whether a full competency examination of the defendant is warranted. If the court decides that the defendant must undergo a complete examination, the court can appoint an independent expert to evaluate the defendant, who is usually a psychiatrist or psychologist.

If the expert determines that the defendant is incompetent, the defendant must receive treatment until he or she is competent to stand trial. In most cases, the defendant will be committed to an inpatient mental health facility for treatment. If the defendant regains competency following treatment, the criminal proceedings will resume, and he or she will stand trial for the criminal charges as planned. 

Some of the most common reasons for incompetence findings include mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Addictions such as alcohol and drug abuse also may contribute to incompetency findings.

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

Trump Administration Announces New Restrictions on International Students in the U.S.

By Peek & Toland on June 29, 2020

The Trump Administration has announced new plans to limit the amount of time that international students can spend studying in the U.S. The new guidelines provide for a maximum period of authorized stay, so students now must obtain additional authorization to remain in the U.S. whenever their plans change. If a student does not graduate when expected, for instance, that student must undergo a reevaluation process, just as if the student were transitioning from college to graduate school.

The new rules would impact international students in the U.S. on student visas F1, F2, M1, and M2. Under current regulations, students can remain in the U.S. as long as they are enrolled in school and maintain their nonimmigrant status.

Trump Administration Announces New Restrictions on International Students in the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims that the change is necessary to prevent the incidence of visa overstays by international students. However, critics of the proposed rule change point out that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is already processing immigration applications at an exceedingly slow rate. Adding more applications and forms for individuals who already hold student visas are likely to add to the backlog of applications.

As participation by international students in U.S. educational programs has already declined precipitously amidst the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration laws, these changes could result in a further reduction in the number of international students coming to the U.S. for education. According to figures from the U.S. State Department, almost 1.1 million international students were studying in the U.S. during the 2018-2019 school year. This number constitutes about 5.5% of all students enrolled in American colleges and universities.  

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

Should I Bother Hiring a Lawyer if I Am Guilty of a Crime?

By Peek & Toland on June 28, 2020

When people commit crimes, many assume that since they are guilty of the crimes, they should not spend time or effort hiring a criminal defense lawyer. Ultimately, they do not believe that having experienced legal counsel to represent them will make a difference in the outcome of their cases.

However, for various reasons, hiring a lawyer for guidance during your criminal proceedings is always a good idea. Even if there is no question that you committed the crime of which you are accused, you may still benefit from the advice that only a skilled criminal defense lawyer can provide you.

Should I Bother Hiring a Lawyer if I Am Guilty of a Crime?

First, the burden of proof in a criminal case is on the prosecutor, who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime. Meeting this burden of proof requires admissible, legally valid evidence that you committed the crime. In some cases, the police may have illegally obtained evidence, which makes it inadmissible in court. Evidence may be lost or compromised by mishandling. Police may not have gathered enough evidence to support a criminal conviction. If this is the case, then you may not always be convicted of the crime, even if you did commit it.

Furthermore, a knowledgeable defense attorney may be able to negotiate reduced charges, reduced penalties, or even a dismissal of all charges in rare cases. Instead of simply pleading guilty to a crime and accepting whatever initial offer and penalties that a prosecutor offers you, an attorney may be able to improve the resolution of your case. By pointing to weaknesses in the state’s case, the prosecutor ultimately may agree to reduced charges or penalties. Likewise, your defense attorney is likely to have handled hundreds of cases in your jurisdiction just like yours. This situation makes your attorney far more likely to obtain a plea agreement in your case than you might be able to achieve on your own.

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

CBP Admits Unfairly Targeting Iranian American Travelers

By Peek & Toland on June 27, 2020

Widespread reports of U.S. Customs and Border Protection detaining Iranian American travelers at the northern border surfaced soon after the U.S. attacked and killed a top Iranian general. At the time, CBP officials stated that although travelers experienced increased wait times, they were not targeting travelers of Iranian descent.

After two U.S. representatives from Washington met with CBP’s director of field operations in Seattle, however, they publicly released statements to the contrary. They explained that not only did CBP make mistakes during the incidents, but they breached protocol and inappropriately singled out Iranian Americans crossing the border.

CBP Admits Unfairly Targeting Iranian American Travelers

Soon thereafter, CNN published an internal CBP memorandum that directed U.S. border officers at Canadian ports of entry to detain and question all travelers of Iranian descent, including American citizens. Additionally, the memo targeted individuals born in Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, as well as anyone with connections to these countries or territories for U.S. border officers to submit to vetting.

As a result, some American citizens of Iranian descent were subjected to hours of questioning about their birth countries, their religious affiliations, and past military service. Some officers confiscated car keys and passports belonging to the travelers while they were questioned. Over two days, from January 4 – 5, 2020, border officials detained over 200 such travelers based on their heritages alone.

An unnamed U.S. border officer also confirmed the existence of the internal directives to detain and question those of Iranian descent, regardless of their citizenship status. The officer also stated that as soon as CNN published the internal memo, CBP withdrew the directive.

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 and set up an evaluation with one of our highly skilled Texas immigration lawyers.

Posted in Immigration

When Do Teacher-Student Relationships Cross the Line?

By Peek & Toland on June 26, 2020

Tex. Pen. Code § 21.12 establishes a specific criminal offense based on an improper relationship between an educator and a student. Any employees of private or public primary or secondary schools commit this offense when they:

  • Engage in sexual contact or intercourse with a student enrolled at the school at which they work
  • Engage in sexual contact or intercourse with a student enrolled at another primary or secondary school or a student participant in a school-sponsored event, if they hold specific positions in a school, including a teacher, administrator, counselor, nurse, or librarian
  • Engage in the online solicitation of a minor who is a student at the school at which they work, or a student enrolled in another school or participating in a school-sponsored event, regardless of age

This code section does establish some affirmatives defenses to the crime of improper relationship between educator and student. For instance, the fact that the educator and student were married at the time of the offense is an affirmative defense. Likewise, it is an affirmative defense if the educator is not more than three years older than the student, and the couple already was in a relationship before the educator’s employment at the school.

When Do Teacher-Student Relationships Cross the Line?

Improper relationships between teachers and students, as described above, can result in second-degree felony charges. A conviction for a second-degree felony can cause a prison sentence ranging from two to 20 years, as well as a $10,000 fine.

However, if a violation of this code section also is a criminal offense under another section of the Texas Penal Code, the accused person can face criminal charges under either code section or both code sections. As a result, the penalties can be very harsh for this offense, particularly if the prosecution chooses to file two separate charges against the accused.

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

DOJ Sues Over Sanctuary City Laws in Various States

By Peek & Toland on June 25, 2020

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is striking back at sanctuary laws in various states that are designed to curtail cooperation between local law enforcement officials and federal immigration authorities. These laws restrict the sharing of information between local and federal authorities to protect unauthorized immigrants from being detained and deported. The DOJ has sued local and state government entities in California, New Jersey, and Washington to compel them to notify them and turn over immigrants with no legal immigration status whom they have arrested for other criminal offenses. To date, five states and counties in more than 30 states have passed sanctuary laws.

In its suits, the DOJ is arguing that sanctuary laws are unconstitutional and pose a barrier to the U.S. government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. These suits are an additional tool that the Trump Administration’s DOJ has used to punish sanctuary states and cities, along with the withholding of federal grant funds.

DOJ Sues Over Sanctuary City Laws in Various States

The DOJ first sued the state of California over these laws in 2018, alleging that state officials were preventing them from deporting non-citizen criminals. A federal judge in California dismissed most of the claims, but the DOJ has continued to appeal the suit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supporters of the sanctuary laws argue that cooperation with federal immigration authorities makes immigrants reluctant to report crimes and work with authorities in any manner. They feel that this lack of cooperation leads to decreased crime in the community, as immigrants are willing to work with police as victims or witnesses to serious crimes.

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

What Are the Different Categories of Misdemeanor Crimes Under Texas Law?

By Peek & Toland on June 24, 2020

There are three different categories of misdemeanor crimes under Texas law: Class A, Class B, and Class C misdemeanors. The most severe charge is a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction for a Class A misdemeanor can result in one year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both. Common examples of Class A misdemeanors include assaults that result in bodily injury, resisting arrest and the theft of goods worth between $750 and $2,500. A Class A misdemeanor conviction can make it more challenging for you to get a job. It also may prevent you from possessing firearms or obtaining a license to carry or holding some professional licenses.

A Class B misdemeanor is the next most serious category of misdemeanor crimes. A conviction for a Class B misdemeanor carries the potential for up to six months in jail, a $2,000 fine, or both. Crimes that may constitute Class B misdemeanors include driving while intoxicated, prostitution, and criminal trespass. A conviction for Class B misdemeanor may have collateral consequences, as well, such as impacting your ability to obtain a license to carry a firearm, drive, vote, and exercise other rights, depending on the circumstances.

What Are the Different Categories of Misdemeanor Crimes Under Texas Law?

The least severe category for misdemeanor offenses is the Class C misdemeanor. A conviction for a Class C misdemeanor does not create a possibility of jail time. Instead, individuals will face a maximum fine of $500. Class C misdemeanors include speeding, public intoxication, and assault by contact. Although you cannot face jail time for a Class C misdemeanor, you still can face an arrest on most Class C misdemeanor charges, except for speeding, texting while driving, and open container violations. Pleading guilty to a Class C misdemeanor, however, does create a criminal record. In many cases, you might be able to negotiate a solution to the charge that results in an expunction of the criminal records, as these offenses do not tend to be severe.

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

Defining Deadly Conduct in Texas

By Peek & Toland on June 23, 2020

Under Tex. Pen. Code § 22.05, the crime of deadly conduct occurs when individuals recklessly engage in behavior that places others in imminent danger of severe bodily injury. Individuals also may face this charge when they purposely discharge a firearm toward one or more other persons or a home, building, or vehicle with reckless disregard as to whether others occupy it. Furthermore, under this section, it is assumed that recklessness and danger exist where individuals intentionally point firearms toward others, even if they believe the firearms are not loaded at the time.

Any act that constitutes general deadly conduct is a Class A misdemeanor offense under Texas law. If the crime involves discharging a firearm, however, the offense is enhanced to a third-degree felony. A conviction for a Class A misdemeanor can result in up to one year in prison and a maximum $4,000 fine. A third-degree felony conviction, however, can cause a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years, plus a fine of up to $10,000.

Defining Deadly Conduct in Texas

In some cases, you might think you are defending yourself if you discharge a gun to protect your family or others. However, if your conduct goes too far, you easily could face deadly conduct charges. Even if your motives were good, creating a reckless risk of severe physical harm to others can lead to these criminal charges.

As the penalties for deadly conduct are not insignificant, you should be sure to get the legal advice that you need in this situation. By attempting to explain your behavior to authorities, you may inadvertently incriminate yourself and create a high probability of criminal charges being filed against you. As a result, you should always consult an attorney before speaking with police about incidents involving the discharge of firearms or other potentially dangerous behaviors that put others at risk.

If you or a family member is facing 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

U.S. Supreme Court Permits Enforcement of New Public Charge Rule to Move Forward

By Peek & Toland on June 22, 2020

Although the litigation over the policy change will continue, the U.S. Supreme Court has permitted the newly revised “public charge” to go into effect. The high court stayed the nationwide injunction against the new rule going into effect that a lower federal court previously issued.

Under the new public charge rule, the federal government may deny green cards or visas to enter the U.S. to individuals who are likely to rely on public assistance. To measure whether an immigrant is expected to become a public charge, USCIS will consider various factors about the applicant, including education, medical history, employment, and assets. Additionally, if immigrants have used any public benefit on an expanded list of such benefits, including Medicaid, SNAP, and more, for a specific number of months, they could be considered ineligible on public charge grounds.

U.S. Supreme Court Permits Enforcement of New Public Charge Rule to Move Forward

Most recently, U.S. officials have clarified that they will not apply the new public charge policy to any immigrants who use government benefits to seek care for symptoms of coronavirus. The move is likely designed to encourage immigrants to seek diagnosis and treatment for their symptoms to further avoid the spread of the virus. The fear is that due to the new public charge rule, immigrants may be reluctant to seek medical attention for themselves and their families. This situation could result in heightened dangers to public health.

Additionally, the public charge rule will not apply to immigrants who must seek public benefits as a result of the pandemic because they are unable to work or attend school. Federal officials advise that immigrants in this situation can later explain and provide documentation that they will take into consideration when applying the public charge rule.

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.

Posted in Immigration Reform

Can I Appeal a Guilty Plea?

By Peek & Toland on June 21, 2020

Pleading guilty or no contest to a criminal charge or charges typically occurs in one of two ways. Many people enter a plea agreement, in which they agree to plead guilty to one or more charges, usually in exchange for a more lenient sentence or the dismissal of some charges. Alternatively, individuals can enter an “open plea,” in which they agree to plead guilty without relying on any recommendations by the prosecutor and leaving their sentence up to the discretion of the court.

Although it does not happen frequently, it may be possible for you to appeal a plea bargain under some circumstances. For instance, if you do not knowingly or voluntarily accept a plea agreement, you may have grounds for appeal to the trial judge or higher appellate courts in some cases. One situation in which a plea bargain might be appealable is if your attorney did not properly advise you of some issues related to your plea. For instance, if your attorney failed to inform you of the immigration consequences of your guilty plea, you may have grounds for an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Likewise, if you did not fully understand the complete consequences of your plea, you might have a basis for an appeal.

Can I Appeal a Guilty Plea?

Impaired judgment or a lack of mental capacity to understand a plea agreement may be sufficient grounds to appeal your guilty plea. In some cases, there may be technical grounds that support an appeal, such as clerical errors that result in you receiving a sentence that reflects an incorrect number of jail time credits.

Appealing your guilty plea after you have been sentenced for a crime, while not impossible, is not a common occurrence. Although some individuals receive their sentence on the same day that they enter a plea, most people have some time between their plea and their sentencing. Typically, a trial judge only will allow individuals to set aside their convictions and withdraw their guilty pleas in exceptional circumstances in which it is necessary to avoid injustice. For example, if a lawyer entered a plea on your behalf without your knowledge, you might have grounds to appeal. Similarly, if you were denied a constitutional right during the process, such as the right to counsel, then you might have a basis for a successful appeal.

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

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