Texas Landowners Continue to Stand in the Way of Border Wall

By Peek & Toland on May 26, 2020

The construction of the Trump Administration’s border walls has faced many challenges. Funding delays, improper construction contracts, and court proceedings all have impeded progress on the wall. One of the most significant barriers to the continued construction, however, is the reluctance and, in some cases, refusal of private landowners to sell the land to the government that is necessary to accommodate the wall.

This problem is especially acute in southern Texas, where the government intends to erect 162 miles of the wall. However, 144 of those 162 miles fall on private land. Since 2017, the Trump Administration has managed to acquire only three of the 144 miles of privately-owned land that they need to continue construction of the wall.

Texas Landowners Continue to Stand in the Way of Border Wall

Unfortunately, eminent domain laws state that ultimately the federal government can take the land. Landowners can allow the government to survey their property and pay them for it now, or they can pursue the matter in court and argue for a higher payment. However, the eminent domain process can allow the government to begin construction on private land, even before the landowners have received compensation, and even if the matter remains in litigation for years. If government lawyers characterize the seizure of property as an “emergency,” they likely will be able to proceed with construction despite the dispute. To give an example as to how protracted litigation might be, 46 eminent domain lawsuits are still pending from when former President George W. Bush authorized the construction of fencing along the border in 2006.

The planned construction of the wall in this case is even more devastating to Americans who own land along the border than it was when the Bush administration wanted to build a fence. The wall is slated to run not along the border, which follows the Rio Grande, but well within the American side. As a result, the wall will cut off far more access to land for these landowners. For one farmer, the wall will cut off access to 350 of the 525 acres that he owns.

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.

Trump Administration Begins to Remove DACA Recipients

By Peek & Toland on May 25, 2020

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has been in an uncertain status since Trump took office in 2017. The program, which the previous administration had enacted via executive order in 2012, provided limited protections from deportations for individuals with no legal immigration status who had arrived in the U.S. at an early age.

Trump Administration Begins to Remove DACA Recipients

Upon taking office, the Trump Administration immediately announced its intent to end the program, giving Congress six months to pass legislation to authorize the program. Legislative efforts failed, which resulted in litigation over the authority of the Trump Administration to end the program without an accurate, rational, and legally sound reason for doing so. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case, with the high Court’s opinion likely to issue this summer.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), every DACA recipient whose deportation proceedings previously were subject to administrative closure now will see their cases reopened. These cases involve individuals with no criminal or only minor criminal records, which was a prerequisite for achieving DACA status. Advocates have reported the reopening of cases in Arizona, Missouri, and Nevada, with ICE confirming that this trend will continue nationwide.

Some DACA recipients have already received notice of impending deportation proceedings. Some of these cases are nearly a decade old. For instance, a 33-year-old Arizona resident received notice of the reopening of her deportation proceedings. She has lived in the U.S. since she was six years old. Now she fears that she will be deported to Mexico and forced to leave her husband and two young children behind.

Although the federal government claimed in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court last fall that DACA recipients or the so-called “Dreamers” would not be deported, the actions of ICE to reopen the administrative-closed deportation proceedings suggests otherwise.

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.

When Should I Consider a Plea Bargain?

By Peek & Toland on May 24, 2020

Most criminal cases in the State of Texas and elsewhere are resolved using a plea bargain. In a plea bargain, the person accused of the crime admits guilt to one or more of the pending criminal charges. In exchange, the State may agree to drop one or more charges or reduce the penalties that the individual will face for pleading guilty to the crime or crimes.

People enter plea bargains for many reasons. The evidence against them may be so overwhelming that they feel they have little chance of winning if the case goes to trial. In other cases, the potential penalties for a conviction at trial are so significant that the individuals are not willing to take the risk of a poor outcome at trial. Additionally, individuals may simply wish to get their criminal cases over with, serve their punishments, and move on with their lives. With a plea bargain, individuals accused of crimes can achieve a level of certainty about their future that is not available by proceeding to trial on the criminal charges.

When Should I Consider a Plea Bargain?

Prosecutors and defense counsel work out plea bargains in negotiations outside the courtroom. A defense attorney cannot agree to a plea bargain on your behalf. You must fully agree to the plea bargain before it is submitted to the judge for approval.

Whether taking a plea bargain to resolve your case depends on your circumstances. Every case is different. In some cases, the prosecutor may have intentionally charged you with multiple crimes, even when some are unwarranted, simply to have more bargaining chips available in plea negotiations. In this case, a plea bargain may not be in your best interests. Only an experienced criminal defense lawyer accustomed to handling plea bargains can thoroughly evaluate your situation and advise you of the benefits and risks of a plea bargain that the State has proposed in your criminal case.

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.

What is the Difference Between Burglary and Theft Under Texas Law?

By Peek & Toland on May 23, 2020

Although burglary can include an element of theft, burglary and theft are separate crimes under Texas law with distinct elements and penalties. Due to the unauthorized entry that characterizes a burglary, penalties for burglary may be more severe than they are for theft.

Tex. Pen. Code § 31.03 defines theft as the unlawful and non-consensual taking of property from its owner, with the intent to deprive the owner of the benefits or usage of that property. Under this code section, theft can take various forms. For instance, theft charges can result from:

  • Theft of services
  • Theft by writing bad checks
  • Organized retail theft
  • Receiving stolen or embezzled property

The value of the property involved determines the level of the charges and accompanying penalties for theft. These charges can range from a Class C misdemeanor offense for property worth less than $100 to a first-degree felony for property worth $300,000 or more. The theft of some items of property, however, results in a specific criminal charge regardless of their value. For instance, theft of a firearm is always a State jail felony, no matter the value of the firearm.

What is the Difference Between Burglary and Theft Under Texas Law?

In contrast, Tex. Pen. Code § 30.02 defines burglary as occurring when individuals enter a home or building and intend to commit, attempt to commit, or commit a felony, theft, or assault. Burglary also occurs when individuals remain hidden with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault in a building or habitation. The main distinction between theft and burglary is that burglary involves entering a building without consent and may involve the commission of a crime other than theft.

In contrast, Tex. Pen. Code § 30.02 defines burglary as occurring when individuals enter a home or building and intend to commit, attempt to commit, or commit a felony, theft, or assault. Burglary also occurs when individuals remain hidden with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault in a building or habitation. The main distinction between theft and burglary is that burglary involves entering a building without consent and may involve the commission of a crime other than theft.

The penalties for burglary generally are harsher than those for theft. Burglary of any building other than someone’s home is a State jail felony offense. A conviction for a State jail felony can result in a sentence of incarceration ranging from 180 days to two years, as well as a $10,000 fine. Burglary of a commercial building that houses controlled substances, when the person entered the building to steal controlled substances, causes the charges to increase to a third-degree felony offense. Penalties for a third-degree felony conviction can include from two to a ten-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine if the burglary involves someone’s home, however, the charge is a second-degree felony, which can lead to a jail sentence of two to 20 years and a $10,000 fine.

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.

Iranian Americans Report Delays at Border; Government Disputes Reason for Delays

By Peek & Toland on May 22, 2020

Some Iranian Americans are canceling vacations and expressing fear about traveling internationally after U.S. immigration authorities delayed many U.S. citizens of Iranian descent for questioning. Reportedly, immigration agents held about 200 Iranian Americans at the U.S.-Canadian border in Blaine, Washington, for up to 12 hours. Similar instances of heightened screenings also have been reported by individuals at other airports and border crossings nationwide. Although the Trump Administration’s Iranian travel ban remains in effect, it does not apply to U.S. citizens or those who hold green cards. Nonetheless, these individuals appear to be targeted in the latest screenings at some points of entry.

Immigration advocates attribute the increased scrutiny of these travelers due to heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. after Iran publicly announced its intention to seek vengeance after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian commander. In response to these allegations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials stated that although heightened scrutiny is currently present at U.S. entry points, there is no directive to more closely question Iranian Americans. They also attributed the recent delays at the Canadian border to low staffing levels over a holiday weekend, which may have led to secondary screenings of some travelers.

Iranian Americans Report Delays at Border; Government Disputes Reason for Delays

Ultimately, CBP released all travelers and disputes the characterization of the incident as “detention.” As one immigration advocate noted, however, extensive questioning with an inability to leave seems to rise to the level of detention. Some of the travelers returning from a ski trip in Canada, who are all U.S. citizens, reported that CBP officials took their passports and car keys and detained them for more than five hours. The travelers endured questioning about everything from their social media accounts to one man’s service in the Iranian military. Others reported questions about their feelings on the current political relations between Iran and America.

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.

CBP Launches Pilot Program to Collect DNA From Detainees

By Peek & Toland on May 21, 2020

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has announced the launch of a pilot program to collect DNA samples from some individuals in their custody. The pilot program will operate in two locations: the Detroit Sector and the Eagle Pass Port of Entry in southwestern Texas. Over 90 days, CBP officials will collect DNA from detainees in Detroit between the ages of 14 and 79. In Texas, CBP will collect DNA from immigrants who present themselves at the port of entry for consideration of admissibility and who will face further detention proceedings.

The pilot program aims to measure the operational impact of the DNA sample collection. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has proposed a regulatory amendment that requires the collection of DNA samples from immigrants and the submission of those samples to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Specifically, the DOJ regulation would require CBP officials to collect DNA samples from any individuals, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, who are:

  • Arrested
  • Facing criminal charges
  • Convicted of crimes
  • Detained under federal authority, including immigrants in CBP custody

The existing regulation regarding the collection of DNA samples exempts some immigrants from the requirement. The exigent circumstances under which immigrants sometimes are detained, and a lack of resources led to this historical exemption. If enacted, this regulation would allow the U.S. Attorney General to order all federal agencies, including CBP, to collect DNA samples.

CBP Launches Pilot Program to Collect DNA From Detainees

From a practical perspective, the FBI Laboratory will provide Buccal Collections Kits to both CBP and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These immigration officials will collect DNA from eligible individuals through a buccal cell cheek swab and forward the samples to the lab for processing and inclusion in CODIS.

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.

DHS Takes Aim at State DMV Laws Permitting Immigration Licensure

By Peek & Toland on May 20, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is taking a closer look at new laws that permit unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in States like New York and New Jersey. Under these new laws, individuals are not required to submit proof of legal immigration status to get driver’s licenses. These laws also restrict the sharing of information with federal authorities, such as for immigration purposes.

DHS Takes Aim at State DMV Laws Permitting Immigration Licensure

DHS has ordered all its departments to complete studies on how the new laws restrict or impact their enforcement of immigration laws. More specifically, the study is to determine what DMV information is already available to DHS departments, how the departments use the information in its day-to-day operations, and how the loss of access to that data will impact security efforts.

New York was the 13th State to authorize licenses for individuals in this position, preceded by New Jersey, which passed a similar law last December. The New York cuts off the ability of DMV officials to provide data to agencies to enforce immigration law unless a judge orders disclosure of the information. As a result, the State cut off access to DMV data for at least three federal agencies when the law recently went into effect.

Within three years, New York officials predict that more than 265,000 individuals without legal immigration status will obtain driver’s licenses. More than half of these individuals are likely to reside in New York City. Individuals still must obtain a driving permit and pass a road test to qualify for a license. Furthermore, the license does not qualify as an enhanced driver’s license or Real ID for federal purposes, such as flying on commercial airlines, which will be a requirement later this year.

New York officials state that they passed the law to cut down on the number of uninsured drivers, improve traffic safety, and provide more opportunities for people to work. DHS, however, has deemed the laws as short-sighted, skirting existing immigration laws, and compromising homeland security.

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 situation.

Texas Implied Consent Law and You

By Peek & Toland on May 19, 2020

The implied consent law in Texas, found at Tex. Trans. Code § 724.035, states that if a police officer has probable cause to believe that you have been driving while intoxicated, you automatically consent to chemical testing to measure your blood alcohol content (BAC). Essentially, by obtaining a driver’s license and driving on Texas roads, you give your consent to blood, breath, or urine testing if law enforcement officials accuse you of committing DWI.

As a result of the implied consent law, if you are refuse to voluntarily submit to breath, blood, or urine testing to measure your BAC in a case of suspected DWI, you can face additional administrative penalties. If you are convicted of DWI, you will encounter these administrative penalties in addition to whatever penalties you receive for the DWI. Even if you are not convicted of the DWI, you still will face these penalties.

Texas Implied Consent Law and You

If you refuse to undergo BAC testing voluntarily, the officer can and will get a warrant compelling you to submit to the testing. Furthermore, you are likely to face the following penalties:

  • 180 days license suspension for a first offense
  • Two-year license suspension for a second offense within ten years

If your license is suspended due to an implied consent violation, however, you may qualify for an occupational license. This type of restricted license allows you to drive back and forth to work legally and to perform essential household duties, despite your license suspension.

You also should know that refusing to take field sobriety tests is different than refusing to submit to chemical tests to measure BAC. Refusing to take field sobriety tests when an officer requests you to do so will not result in the same automatic driver’s license suspension as refusing to take a chemical test. In other words, the state’s implied consent law does not apply to field sobriety testing.

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.

What is Restitution?

By Peek & Toland on May 18, 2020

Restitution is often a part of a sentence that a defendant receives in a criminal case. The judge usually orders that the defendant make the victims of the crime whole by restoring them to where they were before the crime occurred. The Texas Constitution guarantees restitution to crime victims.

Depending on the nature of the crime, restitution can take different forms. The most common type of restitution is financial compensation for any losses that the victim has suffered. Restitution can include direct economic losses and any damages that resulted from the criminal act. For instance, in the case of a theft, the defendant may be responsible for reimbursing an amount of money equivalent to the value of the stolen property to the owner. In a case in which a victim has sustained physical or emotional injuries, the court may order the defendant to reimburse the victim for medical bills and counseling costs.

What is Restitution?

Victims must expressly request restitution be paid to them in criminal cases. They do not have the right to bring independent suits against defendants for restitution. Instead, the prosecutor must request restitution on behalf of the victim in the context of the criminal prosecution.

The amount of restitution varies depending on the nature of the case and the amount of damages involved. The defendant and victim may agree on the value of the restitution to be paid. Probation officers typically perform a presentence investigation in a criminal case, which, in part, gives information about the defendant’s ability to pay restitution. If the amount of restitution is in dispute, the court can hold a separate hearing so that the State and the defendant can present evidence about the appropriate value of the restitution to be paid.

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.

Drug Use, Social Media, and Criminal Prosecution

By Peek & Toland on May 17, 2020

As more and more people across the United States use various social media platforms to document their daily lives, it is not surprising that people put photos of themselves online engaging in illegal behaviors, such as drinking or doing drugs. Teenagers and young adults, in particular, seem to be especially vulnerable to this need to broadcast every aspect of their lives online, which can land them in a great deal of trouble.

Individuals who are already facing drug-related criminal charges generally should refrain from posting pictures of themselves using or displaying illegal drugs. If individuals are on probation or pre-trial release, they could face additional charges or probation violations if law enforcement authorities see their posts. As most law enforcement agencies now regularly monitor social media accounts to obtain evidence against individuals, they should be increasingly careful about what they choose to share online.

Drug Use, Social Media, and Criminal Prosecution

Furthermore, even if individuals are not facing criminal charges, displaying large quantities of illegal drugs or highlighting drug use can lead to constant surveillance by law enforcement. If these individuals are involved in drug possession or distribution, their social media presence can give law enforcement officials a strong indicator that they are engaged in criminal activity.

Likewise, continually displaying large amounts of cash, flashy cars and jewelry, and expensive trips also can be red flags to police that individuals are engaged in illegal dealings. Since an unemployed person usually does not have such a large cash flow, social media posts can be instrumental in alerting police to illicit activities.

Despite what many people think, prosecutors can and do use social media as evidence in criminal cases. Although the rules of evidence concerning social media posts still are evolving, linking people to their social media profile is often not too challenging. These social media posts have the potential to constitute evidence used to convict you on criminal charges.

Peek & Toland dedicates a large part of its practice to assisting individuals in resolving their criminal charges. We know that criminal proceedings can be intimidating and overwhelming for those who are facing potential penalties for criminal charges. We will work with you to achieve the most favorable outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today and set up a consultation with our skilled criminal defense attorneys today.

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