Can a Prosecutor Use Text Messages as Evidence Against You in Court?

By Peek & Toland on December 9, 2019

Text messages often create a detailed written record of interactions, conversations, and incidents that occur between two people. If properly preserved, prosecutors may be able to use text messages as evidence in criminal prosecutions, depending on the circumstances.

Like all other forms of evidence, text messages are not automatically admissible in court. They must meet the standards of the rules of evidence. One of the requirements for evidence to be admissible in court is that there be proof that it is authentic. To be authentic, the person who is introducing the evidence to the court must be able to show that it is what he or she is claiming it to be. Authenticity is a common challenge to the admissibility of evidence in court.

Can a Prosecutor Use Text Messages as Evidence Against You in Court?

Generally, it is not enough for a witness for the state to testify that she knew that she received a text message from the defendant because it came from the defendant’s cell phone number. Since individuals easily can use phones that belong to others, merely receiving a message from a specific number is not enough to authenticate as being sent by the owner of the phone. Instead, individuals must be able to point to other direct or circumstantial evidence that proves the message came from a specific person.

Texas criminal courts consistently have used a liberal standard in determining whether a text message is authentic, or that it is what the witness identifies it to be. For instance, a witness might testify not only that he received a text message from the defendant’s number, but that the defendant identified himself in the message and called him in the middle of the text messages to tell him something specific. This evidence points to the conclusion that the defendant sent the text message to the witness.

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 then can 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.

USCIS Makes it Harder for Immigrants to Become Naturalized Citizens

By Peek & Toland on December 6, 2019

USCIS recently announced that it had taken steps to revise Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver. Immigrants can use this form to request a waiver of the regular fees that they must pay to file various petitions and undergo biometric services. Previously, the request for fee waiver utilized means-tested public benefits programs as a factor in determining whether immigrants were entitled to a waiver of these fees. Means-tested benefits are available at the federal, state, and local government levels, and includes programs like Medical, SNAP or food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income or SSI.

The newly revised form removes references to these means-tested programs. Instead, the form allows anyone whose income is at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to apply for a waiver of the required fees. Additionally, immigrants who demonstrate financial hardship also may qualify for a waiver of these fees. Immigrants must submit the newly revised form along with supporting documentation, including their federal income tax transcripts. The revised form will be required in any filings after December 2, 2019.

USCIS Makes it Harder for Immigrants to Become Naturalized Citizens

USCIS decided that it should no longer use means-tested benefits programs as a factor for consideration because the income levels necessary to qualify for these benefits vary significantly from one state to another. Therefore, individuals who might be eligible for one program in one state might not be eligible for those same benefits in another state, even if they have the same income.

USCIS relies heavily on fees for revenue to fund its budget. More than 95% of its budget reportedly is based on fees. In the fiscal year 2018, USCIS granted about $293.5 million in fee waivers for immigration filing fees and other services. The changes to the waiver request form do not alter the types of fees that USCIS has the authority to waive.

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.

The Impact of Federal Immigration Policies on Universities

By Peek & Toland on November 28, 2019

The crackdown on legal immigration by the Trump Administration is leading to adverse effects for universities nationwide. For instance, many international students are reporting visa denials, which are leading to colleges and universities enrolling fewer international students. Likewise, colleges are having more challenges in recruiting and retaining foreign faculty members. In addition to visa denials, administrative delays have become extraordinarily lengthy, and requests for evidence have become commonplace. In many cases, even seemingly qualified visa applicants who meet all requirements are encountering visa denials. Immigration officials also appear to be applying standards for visa approvals inconsistently, which leads to two similar students receiving different results.

The Impact of Federal Immigration Policies on Universities

With a reported 46% increase in the time it takes for the federal government to process visa applications over the past two years, prospective students and faculty members are stuck in limbo while their positions go unfilled. College administrators claim that the inability to maintain multicultural populations is weakening the entire American education system.

Furthermore, colleges are reporting that existing international students and faculty members are experiencing difficulties with what used to be routine immigration matters, such as clearance for international travel and family visas. The uncertain and lengthy process is likely causing fewer international students to consider coming to the U.S. to study and scholars to conduct research and teach.

Other immigration policy changes are concerning to university officials, as well. Immigrant students often rely on SNAP and housing assistance to support themselves while in school. If they must rely on benefits to attend to school, but it potentially puts them at risk for being unable to remain in the U.S., they may simply choose not to attend school. Student advocates also fear that the public charge rule will discourage immigrant students from seeking federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants.

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.

Interfering with Emergency Calls in Texas

By Peek & Toland on November 27, 2019

Interfering with emergency request for assistance is a criminal offense under Texas law. Under Tex. Pen. Code § 42.062, individuals may not knowingly prevent or interfere with the ability of others to place an emergency call or request emergency assistance from:

  • A law enforcement agency
  • Medical facility
  • Any other agency whose primary purpose is to provide for the safety of individuals

This code section further defines emergency as any circumstances in which individuals are or reasonably believe that they are in fear of imminent assault or that property is in danger of damage or destruction.

This offense often arises in the context of domestic violence, in which one party is trying to call 911 or a law enforcement agency for help. For instance, if individuals take, conceal, or break a cell phone to prevent another party from calling 911, they may commit this offense. Likewise, if a person has called 911 and the other party takes the phone and hangs it up, they could face criminal charges for interfering with emergency request for assistance.

If an alleged victim of domestic violence or another offense claims that individuals interfered with their ability to call for emergency assistance, it likely will be one person’s word against another. As a result, these charges can be challenging to overcome.

Interfering with Emergency Calls in Texas

Any attempt to interfere with a request or call for emergency services can result in Class A misdemeanor charges. A conviction on a Class A misdemeanor offense can result in up to one year in the county jail and a maximum $4,000 fine.

A second conviction for interfering with an emergency call can result in state jail felony charges. The potential penalties for a state jail felony include a sentence of incarceration ranging from 180 days to two years, as well as up to $10,000 in fines.

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.

Local Governments Bear Burden of Migrants Dumped by Border Patrol

By Peek & Toland on November 26, 2019

According to a USA Today article, Border Patrol officers are increasingly dumping large numbers of migrants in border towns, including many in Texas. The large influx of migrants is leaving local governments no choice but to spend their own funds to support them.

For example, Border Patrol has delivered more than 31,000 migrants seeking asylum to San Antonio. Due to its location 150 miles from the Mexican border, the city had never dealt with a large influx of migrants and thus did not have the resources to deal with them. As a result, the city has spent more than $540,000 in local funds establishing a migrant processing center. They also provide food, medical screening, cell phones for migrants to contact U.S. relatives, and overnight shelter in partnership with local churches.

Local Governments Bear Burden of Migrants Dumped by Border Patrol

San Antonio is not the only government entity having no choice but to expend local funds to feed and house migrants. Border Patrol has delivered more than 7,500 migrants to Deming, New Mexico, which has a population of only 14,000. Likewise, San Diego County has spent $2.7 million in the first eight months of 2019 on food, medical care, and transportation for over 17,000 migrants, in addition to housing them on county property. Albuquerque, New Mexico, already was struggling to deal with a homeless population of 4,000 before Border Patrol dropped off another 4,000 migrants.

The USA Today in-depth review of the situation revealed that local communities spent at least seven million dollars over the past year to handle the influx of migrants dumped on their doorsteps by Border Patrol. Communities leaders believe they have a moral duty to care for the migrants who are largely homeless, penniless, and sick from being detained in poor conditions. Nonetheless, leaders across the political spectrum have expressed frustration over the unfunded mandate that the Trump Administration’s immigration policies at the border have created.

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 Curtilage and Why Does It Matter?

By Peek & Toland on November 25, 2019

Curtilage refers to the area around your home, including yards, patios, and porches. Generally, the curtilage is an extension of your home, which makes it off limits to police officers wishing to search in these areas. Since you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in these areas, officers may not conduct a search in them without first getting a search warrant signed by a judge.

However, there are exceptions to this general rule. If officers are legally present in those areas, they are free to observe illegal activities and act accordingly. For instance, if police are responding to a 911 call, they are present on official police business and can take reasonable steps to locate the property owner or the person who called 911 for assistance.

Police also legally can look at what is in plain view in your backyard, such as if it is surrounded by a chain link fence or no fence at all. Likewise, if there is a pathway leading to an open gate to the back yard, then police may be able to follow the open pathway if no one answers the front door of the home.

Furthermore, the airspace above your home and curtilage is generally open to the public. As a result, police theoretically could use a drone to view your backyard without intruding on your rights to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

What is Curtilage and Why Does It Matter?

If you install a tall wood privacy fence surrounding your backyard, then you are creating a reasonable expectation of privacy that officers cannot breach without a search warrant. In other words, the police would not be free to enter through a closed gate to enter the backyard.

You also have the right to tell police to leave your home or curtilage if they do not have a warrant. Certainly, they can return to your home or yard with a valid search warrant, but there is no reason that you should allow them to skirt the rules and violate your constitutional rights.

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.

Decline in Refugee Numbers Leads to Closure of Resettlement Offices

By Peek & Toland on November 24, 2019

CNN recently reported on the closure of various refugee resettlement offices across the U.S. due to the sharp decline in the number of refugees being admitted to the U.S. In fact, all nine resettlement agencies who assist the State Department in placing refugees have now closed multiple office locations. These closures of offices or suspension of resettlement services amounts to about 100 offices nationwide.

Refugee resettlement is a form of legal immigration that not only provides safety for persecuted natives of other countries, but helps reorient them and adapt to life in the U.S. Resettlement agencies that contract with the federal government help find housing, jobs, and needed services for refugees new to the U.S. They also provide cultural training to help refugees navigate daily life in the U.S.

Decline in Refugee Numbers Leads to Closure of Resettlement Offices

The Trump Administration’s efforts at curbing legal immigration along with illegal immigration have been effective in crippling the refugee resettlement program, which was created to serve some of the most vulnerable populations. The resettlement agencies report that they currently are receiving only about one quarter of the 85,000 refugees that they helped to resettle only three years earlier.

In 2018, the Trump Administration set the refugee cap at 30,000, which is the lowest level since 1980. This cap contrasts with the 110,000 cap that was in place in 2017. By the end of August 2019, refugee numbers were nearing the cap.

Refugee resettlement agencies are wary of future caps, and with good reason. The Trump Administration now has advised Congress that it will again dramatically decrease the refugee cap to 18,000 for 2020. This cap is a new historic low. Further complicating the situation, the White House also issued an executive order that permits states and local jurisdiction to deny refugees seeking to resettle there under some circumstances. This new order could lead to more refugee resettlement offices closing in areas of the country in which communities may refuse to accept refugees.

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

Can a Prospective Landlord See My Criminal Background?

By Peek & Toland on November 23, 2019

Anyone can access public criminal conviction records online through the Conviction Database, a repository of records maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). These records would contain all criminal convictions for a Class B misdemeanor or higher. The Texas Office of Court Administration also maintain some state and county-level court records.

Landlords are among the individuals and businesses who have the right to conduct background checks on prospective tenants. They need only your full name, birth date, and social security number to access any public criminal record information. Given the ease with which they can access this information, it should be no surprise that many landlords regularly utilize background checks to screen out potential tenants.

Can a Prospective Landlord See My Criminal Background?

However, landlords will not have access to private criminal records. Perhaps the best example of a private criminal record are criminal records of juvenile offenders, which are sealed and off-limits to the public.

Nonetheless, landlords are not allowed to automatically reject rental applicants with a criminal history or advise them to not bother applying. Taking a blanket approach to deny rental housing to all individuals with a criminal background can violate the Fair Housing Act. Instead, a landlord rejecting prospective tenants based on criminal background must give the individuals notice orally, electronically, or in writing. Landlord also must give the applicants contact information for the company that ran the background check, notice of their right to fix any errors on their report, and give them a free copy of the background check report within 60 days.

Of course, the easiest ways to avoid having your rental applications rejected by landlords is to not have a criminal history in the first place. If you are able to avoid a criminal conviction, you may have a better chance of avoiding rejected rental applications.

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.

U.S. Immigration Court System on Brink of Collapse

By Peek & Toland on November 22, 2019

A recent article in The Hill highlighted the American Bar Association (ABA) report entitled, “Reforming the Immigration System.” In its report, the ABA described the current immigration system as “facing an existential crisis” and “on the brink of collapse.” About the same time as the ABA released its report, the immigration case backlog reached an unprecedented one million cases.

Years of backlogged applications undermine the fairness and effectiveness of the immigration system. Individuals with valid asylum claims must wait years for relief and individuals with non-meritorious claims can remain the country for years. The federal government also has increasingly instituted hiring practices and policy changes that attempt to politicize immigration judges and hamper their ability to issue neutral decisions.

U.S. Immigration Court System on Brink of Collapse

The ABA proposes creating a new Article I court system that falls under the judiciary branch of the federal government rather than the executive branch. The current status of the immigration court system as part of the executive branch subjects the system to political influence. This proposal mirrors the recommendations set forth by the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy 38 years ago, which

Without substantive reform of the immigration court system, the backlog of cases will continue to grow. The already excessive backlog of over 542,000 cases as of January 2017 had almost doubled by August 2019. The average wait time for a hearing in immigration court is 696 days. Additionally, over 322,000 currently pending cases are not yet counted in the active caseload of the immigration courts, as immigration court judges had administratively closed the cases under previous administrations.

Moreover, there is no end in sight to the backlog. As of the end of August 2019, the immigration court system had resolved only about 262,000 cases. Even if no more removal cases were added to the current backlog, it still would take five years for the immigration courts to clear the backlog.

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

Trump Administration Reaches Asylum Deal with Honduras

By Peek & Toland on November 21, 2019

The Trump Administration has created yet another barrier in its quest to make seeking asylum in the U.S. more difficult for migrants. Recently, The Trump Administration signed an agreement with Honduras that could require asylum-seekers traveling through Honduras to apply for asylum in that country, rather than the U.S. The Administration signed a similar deal with El Salvador shortly before its agreement with Honduras, as well as a comparable agreement with Guatemala in July 2019. None of these agreements have gone into effect yet, but would affect any migrants traveling through those countries to the U.S., whether seeking protection under asylum laws or the Convention Against Torture, a United Nations treaty.

Collectively, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are the three countries that produce the most migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. at the Mexican border. Under each of these three agreements, the U.S. ostensibly can send migrants back to these countries if the migrants did not first apply for asylum in those countries when they traveled through them. However, the exact terms of these agreements are still unclear.

Trump Administration Reaches Asylum Deal with Honduras

Another point that is not clear is why Honduras would agree to such a deal. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez currently is facing prosecution in the U.S. after being accused of accepting campaign contributions from drug traffickers. The other curious element of these agreements is all three countries have extremely high rates of poverty, crime, and corruption, which calls into question the ability of these countries to keep migrants safe from harm. Although the U.S. supposedly plans to help the countries increase their capacity to safely accept asylum-seekers, current conditions would make it nearly impossible to guarantee the safety of migrants whom they accepted.

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.

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