TN Visas Under the USMCA

By Peek & Toland on July 7, 2020

TN Visas Under the USMCA

Last Wednesday, July 1, 2020, came and went without much fanfare. Still, it was the first day of the implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which, in essence, is a new and revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 

The new trade agreement for North America took effect July 1, ushering in tougher labor, content, and wage requirements. The agreement includes an annex to address labor conditions and oppressed wages in Mexico. Specifically, the USMCA calls for collective bargaining and secret votes for unions to dilute the influence of business owners in Mexico and allows U.S. labor inspectors to visit facilities in Mexico. The original NAFTA text on work visas has been preserved in Chapter 16 of the USMCA.

The average Texan/American may not think that USMCA affects them. However, the trade agreement is estimated to support nearly 12 million American jobs (700,000 Texas jobs) due to the trade with Mexico and Canada. A result of $173 BILLION worth of goods between Texas and Mexico every year.  

Employers in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada will be excited to know that the TN visa was not altered under the new USMCA agreement.  The list of professions eligible for a TN visa has not changed. No occupations were added or eliminated.

If your business is interested in hiring talented employees from Mexico or Canada, please reach out to Peek & Toland. We have almost 20 years of helping immigrants and American companies work together to keep the economy moving forward. Contact our office at 512-474-4445 to set up an appointment today.

Posted in Immigration, Visas

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Students Facing Felony Charges in the War Against Vaping in Some School Districts

By Peek & Toland on July 6, 2020

A recent Texas Tribune article addresses the drastic efforts of school districts statewide to combat vaping among students. Some schools are searching students to determine if they have vaping pens when they enter school buildings. Other schools are using vape-detecting sensors, drug-sniffing dogs, and sign-out procedures for restroom breaks to cut down on vaping among students.

Penalties for students also vary widely by school districts. Students vaping nicotine often risk suspension or removal from regular classes. In extreme cases, students are placed in alternative schools based on disciplinary problems. If students are vaping THC oils or waxes, which is the active ingredient in marijuana, however, the penalties are far harsher. Students may be subject to expulsion, but also may be subject to arrest for misdemeanor or even felony charges. Particularly for 17-year-olds, who are adults under Texas law for criminal offenses, a felony arrest for possession of a vaping pen containing an illegal drug can have significant consequences and create a permanent criminal record. For these students, a single criminal offense can substantially alter the outcome of their lives in creating barriers to employment, housing, and more.

Students Facing Felony Charges in the War Against Vaping in Some School Districts

In part, schools have had challenges responding to the vaping crisis among students due to minimal guidance from the state on how to address these issues. New vaping laws cannot go into effect at this point until 2021. The problem is, schools need guidance and instruction, rather than sometime next year.

Nationwide, vaping THC has become the new alternative to smoking pot. In states in which marijuana is legal, marijuana companies report that vaping products now make up 30% of their business.

Actions to crack down on teen vaping stem from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) investigations last summer into severe lung injuries and deaths caused by vaping in otherwise healthy people. In the state of Texas, health officials documented 200 injuries and one death linked to vaping.

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

Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

Texas Office of Court Administration Releases Annual Statistical Criminal Justice System Report

By Peek & Toland on July 5, 2020

The Texas Office of Court Administration recently released its FY 2019 annual statistical report for public view. The report highlights various statewide trends. For instance, the number of new misdemeanor criminal cases filed has fallen 33% from its peak in 2007 to just under 400,000 filings. This is the lowest filing rate since 1991. Drug and alcohol offenses constituted 37% of the new misdemeanor cases filed. After nine years of decline, the number of new DWI cases increased by 6% in 2019 and by 7% in 2018. Likewise, misdemeanor domestic violence charges have increased by 9% since 2017.

On the other hand, various types of misdemeanor criminal charge filings have decreased substantially over the past five years. These cases include theft by check, marijuana possession, many other minor drug offenses, driving with suspended/invalid licenses,

Texas Office of Court Administration Releases Annual Statistical Criminal Justice System Report

However, the filing rate for felony criminal offenses has consistently increased since 2014, reaching an all-time high in 2019 of over 225,000. One-third of the new felony filings involved drug charges, and the number of new felony drug possession cases increased 3% over last year to a new high of almost 62,500. New felony DWI charges increased in the previous two years after four years of decline to about 10,3000 filings. Meanwhile, new felony family violence cases have increased since 81% since 2014.

Although most new felony filings increased, including felony theft cases and auto theft cases, the rate of new misdemeanor theft filings remained the same. New burglary and robbery cases also declined.

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

What is the Difference Between a Stacked or Consecutive Sentence and a Concurrent Sentence in a Texas Criminal Case?

By Peek & Toland on July 3, 2020

In most cases, when a defendant is convicted of multiple criminal charges arising out of a criminal trial, the sentences automatically run concurrently, or at the same time. However, the court will issue an order for the sentences to be stacked, or run consecutively, in selected circumstances. When this occurs, the defendant must finish serving one sentence before he or she begins serving another. As a result, the defendant could end up serving a much longer prison term.

What is the Difference Between a Stacked or Consecutive Sentence and a Concurrent Sentence in a Texas Criminal Case?

Whether a defendant opts for the jury or the judge to decide their sentence in a criminal proceeding, the judge ultimately determines whether the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively. Tex. Code of Crim. Procedure § 42.08 gives judges the authority to stack criminal sentences, whether the sentences are imposed or suspended. This provision gives judges broad discretion in stacking sentences.

In deciding whether to stack sentences, judges can consider various factors, including whether:

  • The crimes were committed separately or independently of one another
  • The crimes involved separate acts or threats of violence
  • The crimes were committed at different times or at the same time

Judges must stack sentences in one situation. If the defendant committed a crime while an inmate in a Texas prison and serving an unrelated sentence, the new sentence will be consecutive or stack with the first sentence.

The law outlines some circumstances in which judges may not stack sentences. Generally, if multiple criminal charges arise from one episode and are prosecuted together, the sentences must run concurrently. If, however, the defendant files a motion to sever the charges so that he or she will face two or more separate trials, there is a risk that the sentences will be stacked. Likewise, some other criminal offenses also may be stacked, even if they stem from the same episode of criminal conduct, including some sex offenses.

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 can then 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.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Trump Administration Grants Security Agency Designation to CBP

By Peek & Toland on July 2, 2020

As of January 31, 2020, the Trump Administration has granted the designation of “security agency” to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This change in policy gives a level of secrecy to CBP by shielding a great deal of information from public scrutiny. As a result, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will no longer compel CBP to disclose the names of their officers and various other records. Up until now, only agencies like the FBI and Secret Service have relied on this designation to protect their records.

The Trump Administration moved to change CBP to a security agency after a Twitter account was posting information about CBP employees that typically is available through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM handles federal employee information, some of which is publicly available, including salary information. The Twitter account that triggered the change has since been suspended. The Trump Administration deemed the change necessary for the security and privacy of CBP employees. However, the change does not seem to have increased the authority of CBP in any way.

Trump Administration Grants Security Agency Designation to CBP

Advocates of government transparency see the move as troubling, as it is likely to make it more challenging to hold CBP accountable. Lawyers and others often rely on FOIA to get internal information that relates to policy changes and interpretation, even if the information is redacted. Now, FOIA requests directed to CBP are likely to be even more heavily redacted.

Furthermore, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union have increasingly questioned the secrecy now surrounding CBP after the agency allegedly compiled a list of primarily American attorneys, reporters, and advocates that border agents should stop for questioning at border checkpoints. Likewise, CBP might also have placed alerts on the passports of people on the list.

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 Reform

How Bonds Work in Criminal Cases

By Peek & Toland on July 1, 2020

Bonds are payments that people make to courts so that they can be temporarily released from jail while they are awaiting a trial on criminal charges. Bonds can be cash bonds, which means that the defendant pays the entire amount of the bond set by the judge in cash. More commonly, bonds are surety bonds, which means that a person other than the defendant accepts responsibility for ensuring that the defendant returns to court dates as scheduled, such as a bail bond agency.

The purpose of a bond is to make sure that defendants show up in court to answer the criminal charges of which they are accused. The amount of the bond differs substantially based on the severity of the criminal offense and the criminal history of the defendant. Furthermore, in setting bail amounts, the court must take into account the ability of the defendant to pay the bond, the future safety of the defendant, and the community if he or she is released on bond and whether the bond is high enough that defendant will comply with it. Judges may not, however, use an extremely high bond amount as a form of punishment for defendants who have not been convicted of a crime. 

How Bonds Work in Criminal Cases

If the defendant later fails to appear in court as scheduled for his or her criminal case, then the court will order the bond forfeited. In the case of a surety bond, bail bond agents are responsible for payment of the bond, which gives them a huge motivation to ensure that the defendant appears in court as ordered.

Once the criminal case is over, the court will refund any cash bond posted by the defendant that is left over after the payment of any costs or fees. In the case of a surety bond, there is no refund to the defendant.

In recent years, fights have continued over the need to reform the state’s bail practices. Late last year, a federal judge approved a massive settlement in a lawsuit about bail reform. Incarcerated defendants with misdemeanor charges filed the lawsuit against Harris County for keeping them in jail when they could not afford to pay their bail. The settlement largely eliminates the use of cash bail for low-level criminal offenses.

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

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

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