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Criminal Defense

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

By Peek & Toland on July 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

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

By Peek & Toland on July 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the cases of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges in the state of Texas. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. As a result, we will strive to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our criminal defense attorneys.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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

By Peek & Toland on July 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An experienced Texas criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong defense against any criminal charges. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case and explore your options. We can then help you make the decisions that are mostly like to be beneficial to you based on your situation. Contact Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445 today and see how we can help.

Posted in Criminal Defense

How Bonds Work in Criminal Cases

By Peek & Toland on July 1, 2020

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

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

How Bonds Work in Criminal Cases

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

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

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

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your criminal proceedings. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout your case. Our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers know the best strategies for defending you and working toward your desired objective. Allow us to handle your criminal case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

Posted in Criminal Defense

When is a Person Incompetent to Stand Trial?

By Peek & Toland on June 30, 2020

Criminal defendants must be legally competent to go through a court trial in the state of Texas for the criminal charges that they are facing. If they are incompetent, they cannot stand trial for the criminal charges until they have become competent in the future.

To be competent, defendants must be able to consult with their attorneys with a reasonable degree of understanding. They also must have rational and factual knowledge of the proceedings against them. If the evidence shows that defendants lack either one of these capacities by a preponderance of the evidence, then they will not be competent to stand trial.

When is a Person Incompetent to Stand Trial?

Either the defendant’s defense attorney or the prosecutor may raise questions about whether a defendant is competent. The court also may initiate an inquiry into whether a defendant is competent. At this point, the court questions the defendant informally to determine whether a full competency examination of the defendant is warranted. If the court decides that the defendant must undergo a complete examination, the court can appoint an independent expert to evaluate the defendant, who is usually a psychiatrist or psychologist.

If the expert determines that the defendant is incompetent, the defendant must receive treatment until he or she is competent to stand trial. In most cases, the defendant will be committed to an inpatient mental health facility for treatment. If the defendant regains competency following treatment, the criminal proceedings will resume, and he or she will stand trial for the criminal charges as planned. 

Some of the most common reasons for incompetence findings include mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Addictions such as alcohol and drug abuse also may contribute to incompetency findings.

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

Posted in Criminal Defense

Should I Bother Hiring a Lawyer if I Am Guilty of a Crime?

By Peek & Toland on June 28, 2020

When people commit crimes, many assume that since they are guilty of the crimes, they should not spend time or effort hiring a criminal defense lawyer. Ultimately, they do not believe that having experienced legal counsel to represent them will make a difference in the outcome of their cases.

However, for various reasons, hiring a lawyer for guidance during your criminal proceedings is always a good idea. Even if there is no question that you committed the crime of which you are accused, you may still benefit from the advice that only a skilled criminal defense lawyer can provide you.

Should I Bother Hiring a Lawyer if I Am Guilty of a Crime?

First, the burden of proof in a criminal case is on the prosecutor, who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime. Meeting this burden of proof requires admissible, legally valid evidence that you committed the crime. In some cases, the police may have illegally obtained evidence, which makes it inadmissible in court. Evidence may be lost or compromised by mishandling. Police may not have gathered enough evidence to support a criminal conviction. If this is the case, then you may not always be convicted of the crime, even if you did commit it.

Furthermore, a knowledgeable defense attorney may be able to negotiate reduced charges, reduced penalties, or even a dismissal of all charges in rare cases. Instead of simply pleading guilty to a crime and accepting whatever initial offer and penalties that a prosecutor offers you, an attorney may be able to improve the resolution of your case. By pointing to weaknesses in the state’s case, the prosecutor ultimately may agree to reduced charges or penalties. Likewise, your defense attorney is likely to have handled hundreds of cases in your jurisdiction just like yours. This situation makes your attorney far more likely to obtain a plea agreement in your case than you might be able to achieve on your own.

If you or a family member is facing any criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.

Posted in Criminal Defense

When Do Teacher-Student Relationships Cross the Line?

By Peek & Toland on June 26, 2020

Tex. Pen. Code § 21.12 establishes a specific criminal offense based on an improper relationship between an educator and a student. Any employees of private or public primary or secondary schools commit this offense when they:

  • Engage in sexual contact or intercourse with a student enrolled at the school at which they work
  • Engage in sexual contact or intercourse with a student enrolled at another primary or secondary school or a student participant in a school-sponsored event, if they hold specific positions in a school, including a teacher, administrator, counselor, nurse, or librarian
  • Engage in the online solicitation of a minor who is a student at the school at which they work, or a student enrolled in another school or participating in a school-sponsored event, regardless of age

This code section does establish some affirmatives defenses to the crime of improper relationship between educator and student. For instance, the fact that the educator and student were married at the time of the offense is an affirmative defense. Likewise, it is an affirmative defense if the educator is not more than three years older than the student, and the couple already was in a relationship before the educator’s employment at the school.

When Do Teacher-Student Relationships Cross the Line?

Improper relationships between teachers and students, as described above, can result in second-degree felony charges. A conviction for a second-degree felony can cause a prison sentence ranging from two to 20 years, as well as a $10,000 fine.

However, if a violation of this code section also is a criminal offense under another section of the Texas Penal Code, the accused person can face criminal charges under either code section or both code sections. As a result, the penalties can be very harsh for this offense, particularly if the prosecution chooses to file two separate charges against the accused.

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.

Posted in Criminal Defense

What Are the Different Categories of Misdemeanor Crimes Under Texas Law?

By Peek & Toland on June 24, 2020

There are three different categories of misdemeanor crimes under Texas law: Class A, Class B, and Class C misdemeanors. The most severe charge is a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction for a Class A misdemeanor can result in one year in jail, a $4,000 fine, or both. Common examples of Class A misdemeanors include assaults that result in bodily injury, resisting arrest and the theft of goods worth between $750 and $2,500. A Class A misdemeanor conviction can make it more challenging for you to get a job. It also may prevent you from possessing firearms or obtaining a license to carry or holding some professional licenses.

A Class B misdemeanor is the next most serious category of misdemeanor crimes. A conviction for a Class B misdemeanor carries the potential for up to six months in jail, a $2,000 fine, or both. Crimes that may constitute Class B misdemeanors include driving while intoxicated, prostitution, and criminal trespass. A conviction for Class B misdemeanor may have collateral consequences, as well, such as impacting your ability to obtain a license to carry a firearm, drive, vote, and exercise other rights, depending on the circumstances.

What Are the Different Categories of Misdemeanor Crimes Under Texas Law?

The least severe category for misdemeanor offenses is the Class C misdemeanor. A conviction for a Class C misdemeanor does not create a possibility of jail time. Instead, individuals will face a maximum fine of $500. Class C misdemeanors include speeding, public intoxication, and assault by contact. Although you cannot face jail time for a Class C misdemeanor, you still can face an arrest on most Class C misdemeanor charges, except for speeding, texting while driving, and open container violations. Pleading guilty to a Class C misdemeanor, however, does create a criminal record. In many cases, you might be able to negotiate a solution to the charge that results in an expunction of the criminal records, as these offenses do not tend to be severe.

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the cases of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges in the state of Texas. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf. As a result, we will strive to get the best outcome possible in your case. Call our office today at (512) 474-4445 to set up an appointment with our criminal defense attorneys.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Defining Deadly Conduct in Texas

By Peek & Toland on June 23, 2020

Under Tex. Pen. Code § 22.05, the crime of deadly conduct occurs when individuals recklessly engage in behavior that places others in imminent danger of severe bodily injury. Individuals also may face this charge when they purposely discharge a firearm toward one or more other persons or a home, building, or vehicle with reckless disregard as to whether others occupy it. Furthermore, under this section, it is assumed that recklessness and danger exist where individuals intentionally point firearms toward others, even if they believe the firearms are not loaded at the time.

Any act that constitutes general deadly conduct is a Class A misdemeanor offense under Texas law. If the crime involves discharging a firearm, however, the offense is enhanced to a third-degree felony. A conviction for a Class A misdemeanor can result in up to one year in prison and a maximum $4,000 fine. A third-degree felony conviction, however, can cause a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years, plus a fine of up to $10,000.

Defining Deadly Conduct in Texas

In some cases, you might think you are defending yourself if you discharge a gun to protect your family or others. However, if your conduct goes too far, you easily could face deadly conduct charges. Even if your motives were good, creating a reckless risk of severe physical harm to others can lead to these criminal charges.

As the penalties for deadly conduct are not insignificant, you should be sure to get the legal advice that you need in this situation. By attempting to explain your behavior to authorities, you may inadvertently incriminate yourself and create a high probability of criminal charges being filed against you. As a result, you should always consult an attorney before speaking with police about incidents involving the discharge of firearms or other potentially dangerous behaviors that put others at risk.

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.

Posted in Criminal Defense

Can I Appeal a Guilty Plea?

By Peek & Toland on June 21, 2020

Pleading guilty or no contest to a criminal charge or charges typically occurs in one of two ways. Many people enter a plea agreement, in which they agree to plead guilty to one or more charges, usually in exchange for a more lenient sentence or the dismissal of some charges. Alternatively, individuals can enter an “open plea,” in which they agree to plead guilty without relying on any recommendations by the prosecutor and leaving their sentence up to the discretion of the court.

Although it does not happen frequently, it may be possible for you to appeal a plea bargain under some circumstances. For instance, if you do not knowingly or voluntarily accept a plea agreement, you may have grounds for appeal to the trial judge or higher appellate courts in some cases. One situation in which a plea bargain might be appealable is if your attorney did not properly advise you of some issues related to your plea. For instance, if your attorney failed to inform you of the immigration consequences of your guilty plea, you may have grounds for an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Likewise, if you did not fully understand the complete consequences of your plea, you might have a basis for an appeal.

Can I Appeal a Guilty Plea?

Impaired judgment or a lack of mental capacity to understand a plea agreement may be sufficient grounds to appeal your guilty plea. In some cases, there may be technical grounds that support an appeal, such as clerical errors that result in you receiving a sentence that reflects an incorrect number of jail time credits.

Appealing your guilty plea after you have been sentenced for a crime, while not impossible, is not a common occurrence. Although some individuals receive their sentence on the same day that they enter a plea, most people have some time between their plea and their sentencing. Typically, a trial judge only will allow individuals to set aside their convictions and withdraw their guilty pleas in exceptional circumstances in which it is necessary to avoid injustice. For example, if a lawyer entered a plea on your behalf without your knowledge, you might have grounds to appeal. Similarly, if you were denied a constitutional right during the process, such as the right to counsel, then you might have a basis for a successful appeal.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you through your criminal proceedings. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout your case. Our knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers know the best strategies for defending you and working toward your desired objective. Allow us to handle your criminal case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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