DPS Crime Lab Backlog Exceeds 2,500 Cases

By Peek & Toland on January 23, 2020

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director, Steven C. McCraw, recently acknowledged to the state House of Representatives Transportation Committee, which funds DPS, that the agency’s crime lab is unable to keep up with forensic evidence requests. The backlog is adversely affecting the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, as defendants linger in jail for months or even years awaiting test results. McCraw attributed the backlog to high rates of staff turnover and the length of time necessary to hire and train new staff, which can average about 18 months. For instance, McCraw pointed out that the Welasco crime lab had not been fully staffed in five years.

DPS Crime Lab Backlog Exceeds 2,500 Cases

DPS revealed that as of September 17, 2019, the Weslaco crime lab had over 2,650 unreleased evidence requests. Almost half of that total was unreleased biology and DNA requests. DNA test results are especially crucial to both prosecutors and defense attorneys in many criminal cases, as these results have the potential to prove guilt or innocence.

Currently, the average processing time for forensic biology testing is 218 days, and for DNA testing, 300 days. Firearms testing cases average 228 days, and fingerprint testing cases average 255 days. On the other hand, drug cases typically take 90 days to process. DPS does prioritize some cases, such as those that involve threats to public safety, high profile incidents, and situations in which defendants may be incarcerated for lengthy periods pending test results.

DPS has received just under 6,000 requests for evidence testing this year alone. The bulk of these tests involve toxicology and seized drugs. Still, DPS has released test results in over 6,000 cases this year, as well. 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.

New Restrictions on H-1B Visas

By Peek & Toland on January 21, 2020

According to a recent Forbes article, the year 2020 promises new restrictions on H-1B visas that are likely to decrease the number of H-1B visas further that the federal government issues. First, employers will be required to participate in electronic registration by paying a $10 fee and providing some information about their proposed applications. These registrations then are placed in a lottery each April for the 65,000 available H-1B visas and the 20,000 cap-exempt visas for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. As a result of the ease with which employers can enter the lottery at a relatively low cost, many expect that the electronic registration process will increase the number of applicants significantly. This process could have the effect of pushing out smaller employers in favor of larger employers with more applications. Additionally, since details on the selection and timing of applications following the lottery have been somewhat unclear, employers anticipate time pressures to figure into the ability to submit H-1B visa applications.

Another new development concerns an anticipated rule that would redefine “specialty occupation,” “employment,” and the “employer-employee relationship.” For instance, internal USCIS documents have revealed a proposal to exclude computer programming from specialty occupations. Another possibility is that professions that do not require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree would not qualify as specialty occupations. Redefining “employment” also could affect information technology (IT) service companies, which already are seeing a much higher denial rate of their H-1B visa applications.

New Restrictions on H-1B Visas

Various other policies that could impact H-1B visas are currently the subject of litigation, whose outcomes are uncertain at this point. One such issue relates to the Non-Speculative Work Rule, under which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has demanded that companies provide a list of all work assignments that an H-1B visa holder will have for as many as three years into the future. This litigation is indicative of an increasing trend toward challenging H-1B visa denials in court.

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.

Proposed Changes to Rules for H1-B, H-4, and Various Other Visas

By Peek & Toland on January 20, 2020

According to a recent Forbes article, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a document that outlines the proposed rules that it intends to put into effect in 2020. These rules will have far-reaching implications for employers, international students, foreign workers and investors, and individuals who are seeking asylum.

First, DHS intends to further tighten the restrictions on the H-1B visa program for skilled foreign workers. Denial rates for this popular visa program already have quadrupled over the past four years. The DHS unified agenda states that it will continue to take steps to ensure that only the best foreign nationals obtain visas through this program. It intends to revise the definition of the employer-employee relationship for the visa program and ensure that U.S. employers are paying appropriate wages to these visa holders. These changes, which DHS already appears to be informally implementing, given the suddenly high denial rates, are harming IT services companies and positions for computer programmers, who seem to be subject to increased scrutiny in recent years.

Proposed Changes to Rules for H1-B, H-4, and Various Other Visas

Another aspect of the H-1B program that the Trump Administration long has vowed to change is the work authorization for many H-4 spouses of H-1B visa holders. Over the past several years, these individuals have received work permits that allow them to work in the U.S. while their spouses were H-1B visa holders, a feature that made the visa program much more attractive for many foreign nationals. DHS intends to publish the proposed rule in March 2020.

DHS also has announced proposed changes to the L-1 visas by revamping the definition of the employer-employee relationship and ensuring that U.S. employers pay these workers appropriate wages. U.S. companies report, however, that DHS already has cracked down on the L-1 visa program substantially. Informal policy changes to this visa program have led to 80 to 90% denial rates at U.S. consulates in India, and similar denial rates at U.S. consulates in China. Many of these denials are based on allegations by consular officials that U.S. companies should have only a limited number of employees with specialized knowledge. However, there is no basis in the law for this restriction.

The Trump Administration also is planning to move toward the elimination of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows international students to work in the U.S. for limited periods in specific fields following graduation. Another change that could affect international students is the intention of DHS to block students from re-entering the U.S. for ten years if they violate their immigration status, even unknowingly, while attending U.S. colleges and universities.

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.

House Reaches Agricultural Immigration Reform Agreement

By Peek & Toland on January 17, 2020

House members introduced the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which is a bipartisan bill that would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers. The bill also establishes funding for farmworker housing and aid programs. The purpose of this bill is to modernize the H-2A visa guest worker program and ensure worker rights to safe working conditions and fair wages. The bipartisan authors of the bill, Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Dan Newhouse (R-Washington), called it a compromise solution that offers stability for American farms.

Under the proposed legislation, an uncapped number of visas would become available for farmworkers through a merit-based system, called Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status. These visas would last for five-and-a-half years and be renewable. Existing undocumented immigrant farmworkers would be eligible to enroll in the program if they worked at least 180 days over two years or 100 days over three years in the agricultural industry. Farmworkers also would undergo a criminal background check.

Applications would be available for only 18 months after the effective date of the law, with the option for the Department of Homeland Security to extend the application period for an additional one year. CAW applicants would receive interim work authorization after applying for this visa program. Qualified workers would not have to return to their home countries to apply.

House Reaches Agricultural Immigration Reform Agreement

Individuals who complete eight years of CAW status would be eligible to apply for green cards. A path to citizenship via green card also would be available for individuals who completed four years of CAW status and who have ten years of previous agricultural work experience.

The bill also would establish a mandatory nationwide E-Verify system for all agricultural workers. Various organizations representing both farmers and farmworkers support the bill, including Western Growers, United Farmworkers, National Milk Producers Federation, and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. 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.

ICE Increasingly Contracts with Louisiana Private Prison Company Known for Abuses

By Peek & Toland on January 15, 2020

LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company based in Louisiana, has profited considerably off the Trump Administration’s anti-immigration policies. Within the past year, six of the eight contracts for new immigration detention facilities have gone to LaSalle, despite its documented history of poor conditions and abuse. The federal government pays LaSalle and other private prison companies $70 per day for each detained immigrant.

In October, a migrant incarcerated at one of LaSalle’s facilities committed suicide after being placed in solitary confinement. He received the punishment for participating in a hunger strike. Another migrant, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, reports deteriorating health due to a lack of adequate medical care. Immigrants also have complained of being served moldy food and being subject to verbal abuse by guards.

ICE Increasingly Contracts with Louisiana Private Prison Company Known for Abuses

Many of the new immigrant detention facilities are located on the sites of former county jails. In 2017, LaSalle faced wrongful death suits as a result of inadequate guard training. That incident caused the death of two inmates. Earlier this year, four guards were found guilty of either pepper-spraying handcuffed immigrants while they knelt on the ground or standing around while other guards did so.

As conditions continue to deteriorate at these facilities, the immigrant population continues to grow. Historically, immigrants seeking asylum who passed the “credible fear” interview and could prove that they were not a danger or a flight risk often received parole. Parole grants have become increasingly rare under the Trump Administration. For example, the ICE field office in New Orleans granted 75% of all parole applications in 2016. In 2018, that number dropped to 1.5%. Although a federal judge blocked ICE from categorically denying all parole applications, these numbers seem to indicate otherwise. Due to the sluggish pace at which the immigration court system moves, many of these immigrants remain detained indefinitely.

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

Trump Administration Extends TPS for Salvadorans

By Peek & Toland on January 13, 2020

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Trump Administration recently extended temporary protected status (TPS) for an estimated 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. This extension of TPS allows these individuals to continue legally residing in the U.S., at least until January 2022, according to the Salvadoran Foreign Minister. When individuals have TPS, they have protection from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S.

Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of the Department of Homeland Security, downplayed the extension, stating that it was only extending work permits for Salvadorans for one year past the resolution of ongoing litigation, not extending TPS. The federal government also denied that the TPS reprieve had any connection to its resumption of financial aid to El Salvador or the recent signing of an asylum agreement with that country. According to this agreement, El Salvador must take steps to restrain asylum-seekers and immigrants from proceeding to the U.S.-Mexican border.

Trump Administration Extends TPS for Salvadorans

Following the Trump Administration’s move to end TPS for Salvadorans in 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit. A federal district court in California blocked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from terminating TPS for Salvadorans and natives of some other countries. Ironically, the federal government has extended TPS for Salvadorans voluntarily, even though it has deemed the country safe for other immigrants seeking asylum. TPS traditionally was designed to assist immigrants fleeing civil war or environmental disasters. Most Salvadorans who have TPS came to the U.S. in the 1980s, when a widespread civil war was occurring in the country. That war came to a stalemate in 1992.

The immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the cases of countless individuals who are facing immigration problems. 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 immigration attorneys.

Are Assault and Battery Separate Criminal Charges in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on January 9, 2020

Historically, assault and battery were two different criminal offenses that involved very different actions. Assault occurred whenever individuals did something to place others in fear of imminent harm, such as making threats to harm them. On the other hand, battery involved intentional physical contact with others that injured them.

Tex. Pen. Code § 22.01, however, establishes the single criminal offense of assault, which combines elements of both traditional assault and battery. Under this code section, individuals commit the crime of assault when they:

  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to others
  • Intentionally or knowingly threaten others with imminent bodily injury
  • Intentionally or knowingly cause physical harm to others
  • Intentionally or knowingly have reasonably offensive or provocative contact with others

Texas law provides for no separate criminal offense of battery. The only battery-like offense is contained within the crime of assault.

Are Assault and Battery Separate Criminal Charges in Texas?

Assault charges can range from a fine-only Class C misdemeanor charge to a felony of the first degree, depending on various factors. These factors include whether injuries occurred, the severity of any injuries, and the status of the victims. For instance, assault against a public servant in the course of carrying out his or her official duties will result in a more severe charge than an assault against others. Likewise, if the attack involves strangulation, the level of the charge also can increase.

Furthermore, aggravated assault charges may ensue under Tex. Pen. Code § 22.02 when individuals commit an assault that results in serious bodily injury or involves a deadly weapon. This offense is a second-degree felony, and it can become a first-degree felony in selected circumstances.

Assault and aggravated assault also are offenses that can arise in a domestic context, such as between spouses, family members, or significant others. Repeated assaults of a domestic nature can result in enhanced charges and penalties, depending on the situation.

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.

What to Do Following an Arrest in Texas

By Peek & Toland on January 7, 2020

Being arrested often causes you to experience panic, fear, and stress in quick succession. As a result, you may not be thinking altogether clearly as you desperately try to explain yourself and your actions to police, in hopes of being released. As an experienced criminal defense lawyer can tell you, however, giving in to your panic and talking to the police is not advisable. It may lead to self-incrimination, which can make your defense to criminal charges far more damaging.

During the initial stages of your arrest, you should remain silent, beyond responding to fundamental questions about your identity. Trying to explain why you were at a specific location and what you were doing are strategies that are likely to give police more ammunition to use against you in a criminal prosecution. Your first and only question should concern your ability to call a lawyer to represent your interests. Even if you do not call an attorney initially, you should do so before you appear in court and enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the criminal charges that you are facing.

What to Do Following an Arrest in Texas

If you can post bail to gain your release following an arrest, you should take care to avoid any actions or statements that could cause you further problems. These actions include those that may incriminate you and those that could land you in more trouble with the law. While out on bail, you should resume your regular activities and avoid drawing attention to yourself, especially by avoiding any damaging social media posts.

Finally, you should make all efforts to work with your attorney to build a strong defense in your case. You should tell your lawyer the entire truth so that he or she can better handle your situation and defend your interests. When you hold information back from your lawyer, you can irreparably damage your defense, and that information often will come back to haunt you in the future.

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.

The Many Failures of E-Verify

By Peek & Toland on January 3, 2020

The federal government and politicians of both major parties have celebrated the E-Verify system as an easy, cost-effective means of keeping immigrants without legal immigration status out of the U.S. This database checks personal identifying information of all newly hired workers against existing government records. If the E-Verify system flags a worker, employers must fire them immediately. With this disincentive or barrier to seeking legal employment, proponents of this system argue that illegal immigration will stop. However, E-Verify has failed in various respects and ultimately has not garnered the anticipated results.

One of the main problems with E-Verify is that it checks only the identity information provided by the worker, not the worker himself or herself. Therefore, if the worker provides false paperwork using someone else’s identity, he or she quickly can get around E-Verify. As a result, states that have mandated the use of E-Verify, such as Arizona and Mississippi, have had steady undocumented immigrant populations since implementing the system. Plus, E-Verify did not prevent the employment of 680 undocumented immigration workers targeted in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in August. If E-Verify had correctly worked, those individuals never would have been employed in the first place.

The Many Failures of E-Verify

Further, some employers do not use E-Verify, even when mandated to do so by state law, and when they do use it, they often look the other way and ignore the results. In many states, employers utilize the system only about half the time. In other cases, pretended not to see visible indications of undocumented immigrant status, such as ICE-issued ankle bracelets for immigrants involved in deportation proceedings. Employers have no incentive to use E-Verify, as states rarely enforce the requirement against employers. Moreover, the federal government does not hold employers accountable, either. For example, the government took no action against the Mississippi plants that employed hundreds of undocumented workers.

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.

What is the Seven-Year Rule for Background Checks in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on January 2, 2020

Employers increasingly are conducting background checks on prospective employees when they apply for jobs. The reasons for background checks are simple: employers do not want to hire employees who may steal from them or might create some liability for them. For instance, suppose a daycare does not perform a background check on an applicant and hires the applicant to provide care to children directly. If the employee has a history of physical or sexual abuse against children and then causes harm to another child, the daycare could be civilly liable for not correctly conducting a background check before allowing the employee to work with children.

Generally, employers may conduct a background check using a credit report agency going back seven years for prospective employees. However, there are various exceptions to that rule. For example, if you are applying to a job with a salary of $75,000 or more, the employer can run a background check back to your 18th birthday. This same rule also applies when you apply to a job with an insurance company.

What is the Seven-Year Rule for Background Checks in Texas?

Furthermore, if you are applying to a job that requires residential delivery services or in-home services, the employer must conduct a select background check. This check must include 20 years of felony and ten years of misdemeanor criminal history for crimes of family violence, crimes against property, such as theft, or public indecency. The only exception is if the individual already is licensed by a state professional licensing agency that already has performed a criminal background check for the same reason.

Although few employers conduct background checks themselves, as most use a credit reporting agency, those that do perform background checks themselves have no limits on how far they look back into an applicant’s past. Therefore, while it may be unusual, a prospective employer does have the ability to look farther back into your past than the previous seven years.

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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