Criminal Defense

Common Probation Violations in Texas

By Peek & Toland on September 16, 2019

When you are convicted of a crime, you may have to serve a period of community supervision instead of or in addition to a jail term. While on probation, however, you are subject to various terms and conditions, including reporting to a probation officer regularly, paying fees regularly, and other restrictions.

While there are many different probation violations, some violations occur more than others. In DWI cases, a common probation violation occurs when drivers have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicles, and it registers alcohol when they blow into it. Other common probation violations may include:

  • Committing another crime
  • Failing a drug test
  • Failing to report to appointments with your probation officer
  • Missing community service hours

You might also be subject to probation revocation if you fail to complete drug counseling, an alcohol education class, or another type of course as ordered. Depending on your specific conditions of probation, you may violate your probation in other ways, as well.

Common Probation Violations in Texas

The legal standard for proving a probation violation is much lower than the standard for determining that someone committed a crime. When you are accused of a crime, the prosecutor must prove that you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you. However, when you are charged with a probation violation, the prosecutor must prove that you committed the probation violation only by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, the prosecutor must show that it is more likely than not that you violated probation. Plus, the judge can find you guilty of a probation violation and sentence you to jail without a jury hearing your case.

If you or a family member is facing accusations of a probation violation 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.

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When Can I Get Charged as an Accomplice?

By Peek & Toland on September 13, 2019

Aiding and abetting others in the commission of a crime can have severe penalties, even if others commit the underlying crime. These laws essentially eliminate the difference between committing a crime and helping someone else commit a crime.

Under Tex. Pen. Code. Ch. 7, not only can you face criminal charges for a crime that you commit, but you also can face prosecution for crimes that others committed, depending on the situation. You can be criminally responsible for the crimes of others if you:

  • Cause or assist an innocent or non-responsible person to engage in illegal actions
  • Intentionally promote or assist in the offense by soliciting, encouraging, directing, aiding, or attempting to aid others in committing the crime
  • Have a legal duty to prevent crime and fail to make reasonable efforts to stop others from committing a crime
When Can I Get Charged as an Accomplice?

Furthermore, in a conspiracy to commit a crime, you can face charges if anyone in the conspiracy commits a felony offense, just as if you had committed the crime yourself. You are criminally responsible for a criminal offense that occurs even if you entered the conspiracy with no intentions of committing a crime or causing harm to people or their property.

Under accomplice law in Texas, you can face the same penalties for aiding or abetting someone in committing a crime as the person who committed or carried out the crime. For instance, if you drove your friend to and from a bank so that he could commit bank robbery, and he does rob the bank, you can face the same penalties as your friend. If you give someone a gun to shoot another person, you can be charged with the shooting offense. The same logic applies if you hide someone who has committed a crime and is wanted by police, receive stolen property so that police will not find it in the home of the person who stolen it, or lie to police about a wanted person’s whereabouts. The Peek & Toland criminal defense lawyers are here to represent your interests and advise you of the best course of action in your criminal case. Set up an appointment to talk to us today and discover how we can assist you with your criminal defense issue.

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What is Human Trafficking Under Texas Law?

By Peek & Toland on September 12, 2019

Tex. Pen. Code § 20A.01(4) defines trafficking as transporting, enticing, recruiting, harboring, providing, otherwise obtaining another person by any means. Human trafficking typically occurs to engage in forced labor or commercial sex trade.

What is Human Trafficking Under Texas Law?

The offenses and penalties for human trafficking vary according to the age of person whom the accused persons allegedly trafficked. Under Tex. Pen. Code § 20A.02, it is illegal to knowingly take the following actions concerning anyone who is over the age of 18:

  • Traffic others with the intent for them to engage in forced labor or services
  • Receive a benefit from participating in a scheme to traffic others for forced labor or services, including by receiving labor or services that they know are forced
  • Traffic others and cause them by force, fraud, or coercion to engage in prostitution or other criminal offenses related to prostitution
  • Receive a benefit from participating in a scheme to traffic others for the purposes of prostitution or related criminal offenses, or engage in sexual conduct with a person whom they know has been trafficked

Tex. Pen. Code § 20A.02 also sets forth the criminal offense for trafficking with a minor. Prohibitions under this section are generally the same as those for an adult, except that it is also illegal to traffic minors to cause them by any means to engage in prostitution and various other sexual offenses. These offenses include continuous sexual abuse of a child, indecency with a child, sexual assault, and sexual performance by a child, among others.

With a few exceptions, trafficking in humans will result in a second-degree felony charge. However, human trafficking becomes a first-degree felony if the person allegedly trafficked died during the commission of the offense, the person’s unborn child died during the commission of the offense, or the alleged trafficking involved a minor. The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges, including traffic-related charges. 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.

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Parole and Probation Violators Make Up Bulk of Prison Population

By Peek & Toland on September 8, 2019

Parole and probation programs are designed to offer alternatives to incarceration by allowing them to serve sentences for criminal convictions outside of jail or prison walls. According to a report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), a large portion of prison inmates are incarcerated due to probation or parole violations, either due to technical violations or new offenses. This disappointing data undermines the premise of probation and parole in general.

The report states that 45% of state prison admissions across the country are based on parole or probation violations, whether for new offenses or technical violations. As many as one-third of these violations are due to technical violations, although others are far more serious, such as violations for committing new crimes. Some examples of technical violations include failing drug tests, being around others with criminal records, and being out past curfew.

Parole and Probation Violators Make Up Bulk of Prison Population

Overall, nearly one in every four inmates, or 280,000, are incarcerated for these violations on any given day. In 13 different states, more than one in three people are incarcerated due to supervision violations daily. In the state of Texas, about 16% of the incarcerated population is due to probation or parole violations on any given day, or just under 23,000 people.

The total proportion of state prison admissions based on supervision violations in 20 states is over 50%. Texas is only slightly below that mark, coming in at 47%. These statistics show that half the prison admissions in half the country are solely due to parole or probation violations, which is a high cost to society. Based on this report, the costs of incarcerating these individuals top $9.3 billion annually. 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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What Should You Do Now if You Are in the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, Since It Will No Longer Exist?

By Peek & Toland on September 6, 2019

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a bill into law that eliminates the Driver Responsibility Program. This Program traditionally assessed fines to millions of Texans and resulted in about 1.3 million people having their licenses suspended. As of September 1, 2019, the date on which the program will end, over 630,000 will be eligible for automatic license reinstatement. Another 350,000 people will qualify for reinstatement after they pay their reinstatement fees.

If you owe any remaining surcharges on September 1, 2019, they will disappear along with the Driver Responsibility Program. Drivers currently enrolled in the Driver Responsibility Program and who are paying surcharges, however, may want to know what happens to them as of the end date of the program. There are a few different answers to that question.

What Should You Do Now if You Are in the Texas Driver Responsibility Program,
Since It Will No Longer Exist?

First, if drivers currently are enrolled in the program and now making payments, they should continue making payments up until September 1, 2019. Otherwise, they risk having their licenses suspended for failure to make payments.

If eligible, you may be able to stop paying all or some of your surcharges through the Incentive Program. Under this program, if you make less than 300 percent of the poverty guidelines, you may be able to have your surcharges reduced and cease making payments for six months. Since September 1, 2019, will occur before the six months is up, you no longer will owe the surcharges at that point.

While you also can stop paying surcharges before September 1, 2019, if you don’t qualify for the Incentive Program due to your income, it is not advisable. You could be driving on a suspended license until the program ends on September 1, 2019, and if you get caught, you could face criminal charges. A criminal conviction for driving while suspended could result in a further suspension, high fines, and even jail time for repeat offenders. 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.

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What is Stare Decicis and Why Does It Matter?

By Peek & Toland on September 3, 2019

Stare decisis is the law of precedent that governs decisions in court cases. If the court previously has decided and issued a ruling on a specific issue, the court will rely on stare decisis to make decisions in cases in which the same question arises. In other words, the court generally will follow its prior decisions concerning the same issues, without reevaluating those decisions in any way. Courts follow both their past decisions and those of higher courts.

In some cases, however, the court will opt to deviate from prior court decisions. For instance, the court may distinguish the case that it is considering based on the facts that were present in the previous decision. This may allow the court to reach a resolution that differs from its precedent in some way. In rare cases, a court may reconsider one of its prior decisions altogether and overrule it or reach an opposite result.

What is Stare Decisis and Why Does It Matter?

Stare decisis, or precedent can be binding or non-binding. A court’s own prior decisions are non-binding precedent. As a result, courts have the power to deviate from, distinguish, or overrule its own decisions. In other cases, however, precedent is binding, and courts must follow it. For example, if the U.S. Supreme Court already has decided an issue, all lower courts must follow it. This is because the higher Court’s decisions are binding on the lower courts.

As a result, when specific issues arise in your criminal case, you must be aware of binding and non-binding precedent on those issues and how that might impact the outcome of your case. Courts routinely defer to their prior decisions based on stare decisis. While not impossible, it generally is much more difficult to argue that a court should overrule its previous non-binding decisions than to follow them. The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. Our goal is 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.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture in Texas

By Peek & Toland on September 1, 2019

The Texas Tribune recently published an in-depth report of its investigation into civil asset forfeiture in some jurisdictions in Texas. Tribune reporters studied 560 civil asset forfeiture cases filed in 2016, composed of six months of cases from Harris County and 12 months of cases from Smith, Webb, and Reeves Counties. From these cases, local law enforcement agencies seized almost $10 million and 100 vehicles, not including federal law enforcement seizures of property.

Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement officials to seize property, including cash, vehicles, and other items of personal property, in some cases. Police can take these assets if they believe that they have been used in connection with or related to a crime. Prosecutors file a civil action against the property itself to retain the property, even if the property owners never face prosecution for a criminal act.

Civil Asset Forfeiture in Texas

The investigation also found that in about 60% of the cases, the property owners did not fight the civil forfeiture action, resulting in the local government keeping the property by default. About 20% of the cases never resulted in a criminal prosecution; in Webb County, more than half of the cases never resulted in criminal prosecution. In about 40% of the cases, even if there was a prosecution, no one was found guilty of a crime.

Civil asset forfeiture has come under fire in recent years. Earlier this year, a Supreme Court ruling placed limits on the ability of states to seize property whose value outweighs the severity of the alleged crime. Some states now have adopted legislation that requires a criminal conviction to take assets through civil forfeiture. The Texas legislature, however, has declined to address the issue thus far. 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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SCOTUS Strikes Down Portion of Federal Gun Law as Unconstitutionally Vague

By Peek & Toland on August 30, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in U.S. v. Davis, in which the Court struck down a portion of a federal gun law as unconstitutionally vague. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(b) makes it illegal to use a firearm during a crime of violence. This section defined a crime of violence as “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”

The penalties for violating § 924(c)(3)(b) are harsh. A first offense requires a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, and subsequent offenses require a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence. These sentences also can run consecutive to any sentences that they receive for the underlying crime.

SCOTUS Strikes Down Portion of Federal Gun Law as Unconstitutionally Vague

The Davis decision is quite narrow, however, as it focuses only on one small section of the pertinent code section. Nonetheless, the high Court held that the language in this code section provides no reliable way to determine whether a crime qualifies as a “crime of violence.” The Court thus concluded that the law as written is unconstitutionally vague.

The federal government argued for an alternate reading of the provision. However, the Court declined to adopt that interpretation, concluding that doing so would be making new law rather than applying the law that Congress enacted.

Justice Gorsuch joined the liberal members of the Court in striking down the provision, just as he did last year in another decision in which the Court found a statute unconstitutionally vague. The decision drew an intense and lengthy dissent from Justice Kavanaugh.

The decision resulted in remanding the case back to the Fifth Circuit to consider the requests of the defendants in this case for a full resentencing hearing.

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.

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Law Shortens Period to Obtain Order of Non-Disclosure for First-Time DWI

By Peek & Toland on August 26, 2019

Over the past few years, the Texas legislature has passed legislation expanding the availability of orders of nondisclosure for some criminal offenses. An order of nondisclosure effectively prohibits public officials and their agencies from releasing information about specific criminal cases to the public. Recent changes to nondisclosure laws allow eligible individuals to seek orders of nondisclosure for first-time DWI convictions. For instance, individuals cannot get an order of nondisclosure if they were convicted of DWI as a Class A misdemeanor due to a high blood alcohol content (BAC).

There is a waiting period before individuals qualify to seek an order of nondisclosure for DWI and related offenses. These persons must wait two years from the successful completion of their sentences if the court required them to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicles for six months. If the installation of an IID was not a part of the court order, then these individuals must wait at least five years from the date that they completed their sentences.

Law Shortens Period to Obtain Order of Non-Disclosure for First-Time DWI

The most recent change to the waiting period required for an order of nondisclosure concerns individuals who receive deferred adjudication for a first-time DWI. This is a new means of resolving a first-time DWI that is newly available as a result of the 2019 legislative session. For individuals who receive deferred adjudication and otherwise qualify for an order of nondisclosure, the waiting period is somewhat different. Their waiting period expires two years from the date that they complete deferred adjudication community supervision, and the court dismisses the case. This change in the law takes effect on September 1, 2019.

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges, including traffic-related charges. 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.

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Potential Penalties Increase for Assaulting a Pregnant Woman

By Peek & Toland on August 24, 2019

Currently, an assault against a pregnant woman carries the same penalties as an assault against other persons. The only exception was for individuals who targeted pregnant women to induce them to have abortions, which results in enhanced charges. Both situations result in Class A misdemeanor assault charges that carry the potential for up to one year in jail. As of September 1, 2019, however, the penalties will increase for those who knowingly assault pregnant women.

Governor Greg Abbott recently signed House Bill 902 into law. Under this law, individuals who assault women whom they know or should have known were pregnant at the time of the assault can face third-degree felony charges. The penalties for a third-degree felony conviction can include a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years.  

Potential Penalties Increase for Assaulting a Pregnant Woman

The new enhancement to the assault statute for pregnant women closely tracks enhancements already existing in the assault law for certain classes of people who are the targets of an assault. For example, assault against public servants engaged in their official duties elevates the charge to a third-degree felony. Other classes of individuals that can trigger enhanced assault charges include:

  • Family and household members in some circumstances
  • Government contractors working in correctional facilities
  • Security officers
  • Emergency services personnel

Enhanced assault charges also apply to individuals who are committed to civil commitment facilities when they assault officers, employees, or contractors who work at the facilities. Other groups of people whose assault can result in enhanced charges include judges, peace officers, elderly or disabled persons, and sports participants, in some circumstances.

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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