Criminal Defense

What is the First Step Act?

By Peek & Toland on January 20, 2019

The First Step Act is a bill pending before Congress that was created and backed by a bipartisan prison reform organization that is seeking to cut the current prison population by 50%. Although the organization is based in California, the reform bill incorporates many of the prison reform initiatives that first took place in Texas.

 

What is the First Step Act?

In 2007, the state of Texas began to take steps to reduce its prison population, which had peaked at 170,0000 inmates, by providing classes and programming to inmates that would better prepare them for life after release, such as education and substance abuse treatment. The idea was to reduce recidivism by giving inmates the tools to change their lives and avoid returning to a life of crime following their release from prison. Texas also undertook other measures designed to reduce incarceration rates, such as establishing drug courts and reducing incarceration times for nonviolent offenders. As a result, the state’s prison population dropped by 30,000, eight prisons were closed, and the state’s crime rates have been at historically low rates.

The First Step Act utilizes many of the same types of programming. Under this bill, prisons would offer vocational training, academic classes, and substance abuse education. Successful participants in these programs would receive “good time credits” that could reduce days off their prison sentences.

The measure easily passed the House, but unless it receives Senate approval before the end of the year, supporters of the bill will have to start the approval process all over again in January, this time before a Democratic House and a Republican Senate. Some conservatives still have not publicly supported the bill, and some Democrats believe that the bill doesn’t go far enough in terms of effectuating prison reform.

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 in order 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 today.

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What is the Felony Murder Rule?

By Peek & Toland on January 19, 2019

One definition of murder under Texas Penal Code § 19.02 is when a person “commits or attempts to commit felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.” Under the felony murder rule, then, if individuals participate in a felony offense that results in a death, the death is considered to be a murder. This is the case even if an individual only had minimal involvement in the felony offense or if the individual had no intent to kill anyone in committing the offense.

 

What is the Felony Murder Rule?

The difference between the definitions of felony murder and murder is one of intent. All other definitions of murder require that the person specifically intend to kill someone. In a felony murder situation, however, there need be no intent. In fact, in many cases, the persons involved only had the intent to commit the underlying felony offense, not the murder. Nonetheless, a person charged with felony murder can face the same penalties as those charged with murder under another section of the murder statute.

A good example of where the felony murder rule might apply is in the case of a person who has multiple DWI convictions. For a third or subsequent DWI charge, the charge becomes a felony rather than a misdemeanor. If this person causes a fatal accident during a subsequent DWI, he or she could be charged with felony murder. Likewise, if a driver commits DWI with a passenger in the vehicle who is under the age of 15, then the offense is also a felony. Again, if the passenger dies or another person dies in an accident caused by the intoxicated driver, the driver could face felony murder charges.

If you or a family member is facing any type of 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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Domestic Violence Laws in Texas

By Peek & Toland on January 18, 2019

Many states have specific domestic violence statutes that provide for criminal penalties. However, Texas includes elements of domestic violence in some of its general criminal offenses that often involve family or household members.

Domestic Violence Laws in Texas

Some states have established a separate criminal offense of domestic violence, but Texas has simply included elements of domestic violence within some criminal offenses that commonly involve family or household members. In order to qualify as family or household members, individuals must have one of the following relationships:

·         Live together in the same residence

·         Share a child, whether living together or not

·         Be in a dating relationship or previously dating

·         Spouses or former spouses

·         Family members

The involvement of a family or household member in a criminal offense can make the penalties for the offense more severe. For instance, under Tex. Pen. Code § 22.01, the general crime of assault is a Class A misdemeanor. Assault involving a family or household member, however, can become a third degree or even second degree felony in some situations, such as if the individual has a prior conviction or if the assault involves certain types of actions, such choking or strangling.

Another offense under Texas law that involves domestic violence is found in </uTex. Pen. Code § 25.11. This statute establishes the offense of continuous violence against the family, a third degree felony. In order to be guilty of this offense, a person must have committed an assault against a family or household member two or more times during a 12-month period. This is a separate charge from any underlying assault charge.

Additionally, it is a criminal offense to violate a protective order that is issued in a domestic violence situation. In many cases, if a person is accused of assaulting or committing another criminal offense against a family or household member, or if the family or household member files a petition for protective order, the court will issue what amounts to a no-contact order between the accused person and the alleged victim. If a person violates the terms of a protective order, he or she commits a Class A misdemeanor. However, the charge can increase to a third degree felony in some situations.

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges, including domestic violence offenses. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf in order 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 today.

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Is Sexting a Crime in Texas?

By Peek & Toland on January 14, 2019

Texas does not have a specific law prohibiting sexting, which is generally defined as any electronic communications using a cell phone, computer, or another digital advice to send, receive, or forward sexually explicit text, photos, or videos. However, these actions can constitute a crime when it involves an adult and a minor.

 

Is Sexting a Crime in Texas?

Under Tex. Pen. Code § 43.24, it is illegal to display or distribute harmful material to minors. Harmful material includes all material that appeals to the prurient interest of a minor in sex or nudity, that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as to what materials are appropriate for minors, and that has no redeeming social value for minors. This offense is a Class A misdemeanor under Texas law, which can result in a fine of no more than $4,000 and /or a jail sentence of no more than one year pursuant to Tex. Pen. Code § 12.21.

Likewise, Tex. Pen. Code § 43.261 makes it illegal for a minor to intentionally use electronic means to promote to another minor visual material depicting a minor engaging in sexual conduct. This offense is a Class C misdemeanor, which carries no risk of jail time. Plus, it is a defense to prosecution if the visual material depicted only the alleged actor or a minor who is not more than two years younger or older than the alleged actor, with whom he or she had a dating relationship at the time of the offense, and the material was exchanged only between the alleged actor and the minor.

If you are facing criminal charges, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can ensure that you raise all relevant defenses. At Peek & Toland, we are dedicated to protecting your rights and defending you any accusations of wrongdoing that you may be facing. We are here to investigate the facts surrounding your case, consider your options, and help you develop the strategy that is best designed to achieve a successful outcome in your case. Do not waste time attempting to handle legal matters on your own; contact our office as soon as you are charged with a criminal offense so that we can provide you with the help that we need.

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Open Container Law in Texas

By Peek & Toland on January 10, 2019

Under Texas law, it is illegal to transport an open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle. In order to be an open container, the container must be an unsealed bottle, can, flask, or any other device to hold alcohol. Furthermore, for an open container to be present in the passenger compartment of a vehicle, it must be visible and reasonably within reach of the driver’s seat. An open container, however, is not considered to be in the passenger compartment of a vehicle if it is in a locked glove box or another locked storage area within the vehicle, if it is in the trunk of your vehicle, or if it is in the area of your upright seat, if your vehicle does not have a trunk.

Open Container Law in Texas

The Texas open container law applies when you are driving on a public road, but also when you are stopped and parked in, on, or immediately next to a public road. Therefore, you do not have to actually be caught driving in order to violate the open container law. Plus, even if a driver does not have an open container of alcohol, but his or her passenger does, both individuals could be charged with an open container offense because they both could reach the open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. This is the case even if the driver had no alcohol in his or her system at all at the time of the arrest.

Violation of the open container law is a Class C misdemeanor under Texas law, which means that you will receive a citation and fine for the offense. There is no possibility of jail time for this offense and the fine is not likely to be more than $500.

If you find yourself charged with any type of criminal offense, you need legal advice that only experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys can offer you. As the consequences of any criminal conviction may be severe, you should immediately contact a skilled defense lawyer for help if you have been accused of a criminal offense. Peek & Toland provides strong legal representation on a regular basis for individuals who are charged with various crimes. It is our priority is to represent your interests and protect your rights.  Call us at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment to speak with us today.

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What Happens if I Fail to Appear in Court?

By Peek & Toland on January 8, 2019

In many situations, you must pay a bond to be released from jail prior to your next court date. One of the conditions of your bond is that you will appear as ordered at all future court dates. Even if you are released on your own recognizance, or without paying a bond, you still are ordered to appear in court at a later date. In other situations, particularly for minor offenses, law enforcement officers may not even arrest you, but they may still give you a citation or ticket containing a court date at which you must appear.

 

What Happens if I Fail to Appear in Court?

If you fail to appear in court as ordered, the judge is likely to issue a warrant for your arrest. Furthermore, if you did post bond, you likely will forfeit the amount of the bond to the court, which means that you will not get the amount you paid back as you normally might when a criminal case is resolved. You may face other possible penalties if you fail to appear in court, as well. For instance, the judge could hold you in contempt of court for failing to follow a court order.

There some cases in which you might have a legitimate excuse for failing to appear in court. For instance, a serious illness or emergency surgery might prevent you from appearing in court as scheduled. Death of a family member also might be a valid excuse in some cases. Occasionally, you might fail to get proper notice of the court date, which might excuse your failure to appear. However, when these unexpected events occur, it is best to immediately notify your lawyer or the court of the situation and get documentation of the reason for your failure to appear in court if possible, such as a note from the hospital or your surgeon.

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 in order 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 today.

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What is Bond Forfeiture?

By Peek & Toland on January 7, 2019

When you are arrested, the court often will set a bond or bail amount, along with other conditions of your release. In order to get released from jail, you will have to pay the full amount of the bond, or if you cannot afford to do, you may have to enlist the assistance of a bail bondsman.

Whatever the case may be, you (or the bail bondsman) can have the bond forfeited by the court if you fail to meet the pre-trial bond conditions set by the court. These conditions often include requirements that you show up for future court dates as required, abiding by a curfew, refraining from using drugs or alcohol, and not traveling outside the state or country unless specifically permitted to do so.

 

What is Bond Forfeiture?

In many cases, bond forfeiture arises when individuals fail to show up to court dates as scheduled. In this situation, not only is the judge likely to issue a warrant for your arrest, but you also are likely to forfeit any bond paid. The bond automatically becomes the property of the jurisdiction in which you are facing charges.

Plus, when you use a bail bondsman to get a surety bond posted by the court, you paid a non-refundable fee that typically is a flat percentage of the bond amount. However, if the bond is forfeited, the bail bondsman is required to pay the full amount of your bond to the court. You thus will become liable to the bail bondsman for the entire amount of the bond. This means that if you put up property or vehicles as collateral for the surety bond, then the bondsman may choose to liquidate those assets and collect their proceeds in order to get reimbursed for the bond amount that you now owe in its entirety.

If you or a family member is facing any type of 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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Getting a License to Carry a Handgun in Texas

By Peek & Toland on January 4, 2019

You must have a license to carry a handgun under Texas law. You also must meet certain eligibility requirements in order to qualify for a handgun license. More specifically, you generally must:

·         Be a resident of the state of Texas for six months prior to the date of the license application

·         Be at least 21 years of age

·         Have no felony convictions, no pending charges for a felony, Class A or B misdemeanor, or disorderly conduct

·         Have no convictions for disorderly conduct as a Class A or B misdemeanor in the past five years

·         Not be a fugitive from justice for a felony or Class A or B misdemeanor, or equivalent crimes

·         Not chemically dependent and capable of exercising sound judgment to the usage and storage of a handgun

 

Getting a License to Carry a Handgun in Texas

There are many other requirements that you must meet in order to be eligible for a handgun license, including not being delinquent in the payment of child support or state taxes. Additionally, you must meet all federal eligibility requirements to carry a handgun, including having no convictions for domestic violence crimes, whether they are felonies or misdemeanors. While there are some exceptions to these rules, you generally must meet these eligibility requirements in order to carry a handgun in the state of Texas.

When you apply for a handgun license, you will need to have a valid driver’s license or identification card, current demographic, address, and employment information, and the same information for the last five years, and information regarding any psychiatric, drug, alcohol, or criminal history. You also must submit a photograph and fingerprints to the Texas Department of Public Safety (TPS) in order to apply for a handgun license.

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges, including gun law violations and similar charges. We are here to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf in order 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 today.

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What Does the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Do?

By Peek & Toland on January 1, 2019

The role of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is to decide which eligible offenders should be released from prison to parole or another type of mandatory supervision. They use a set of guidelines to evaluate each offender’s likelihood of success if granted parole and weigh that likelihood to the risk to society if the offender is released.

If an offender who has been released violates the terms of his or her parole, the Board decides what measures to take. These measures may include revoking the offender’s parole and sending him or her back to prison, imposing more or different conditions on the offender’s parole, placing the offender in a different type of facility

What Does the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Do?


The Board also makes recommendations on clemency matters to the Governor. This includes making recommendations about requests for pardons. The Governor can issue a pardon with the written recommendation of a majority of the Board. Options can include full pardons following a conviction or completion of a deferred adjudication community supervision program, conditional pardons, and commutation of sentences. In death penalty cases, the Governor can grant one 30-day reprieve to the individual without the recommendations of the Board. If the Board and Governor wish to grant clemency in a death penalty case, then the sentence of the offender will be commuted from death to life in prison.

A pardon restores some, but not all, citizenship rights to the individual. Specifically, following a pardon issued by the Governor, the individual can hold public office, serve on a jury, and serve as the executor or administrator of an estate. However, a pardon will not allow the individual to become eligible to serve as a peace officer, and the individual still may be barred from certain types of professional licenses. State licensing boards for each profession determine the suitability and eligibility of individuals who apply for licenses and it is up to their discretion whether to grant the application for licensing.

An experienced Texas criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong defense against any criminal charges, as well as educate you about your rights and responsibilities before the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. We are here to evaluate the facts surrounding your case, present your options, and 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.

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What is SR-22 Insurance and When Do I Need It?

By Peek & Toland on December 17, 2018

A Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate (SR-22) is a certificate issued by an insurance company that serves as proof to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) that an individual has purchased a policy for minimum liability insurance as required by law. Insurance agencies that issue SR-22s will automatically notify DPS if the insurance policy is cancelled, lapses, or otherwise terminates.

The minimum liability insurance required by Texas law for drivers to have in place includes the following:

·         $30,000 for bodily injury to or death of one person in one accident

·         $60,000 for bodily injury to or death of two persons in one accident

·         $25,000 for damage to or destruction of property of others in one accident

What is SR-22 Insurance and When Do I Need It?

An SR-22 certificate comes into play when individuals have their licenses suspended or revoked as a result of a car crash, criminal conviction, or judgment. When this situation occurs, individuals must maintain a valid SR-22 certificate with DPS for two years from the date of the conviction or the date of the issuance of the judgment. Another situation in which DPS requires an SR-22 certificate is when individuals must place a security deposit with DPS as compliance for a crash or crash default suspension. An additional requirement to reinstating a license following a suspension, aside from proof of SR-22 insurance, is that individuals must pay all reinstatement fees to DPS.

DPS can suspend your license and vehicle registration if you are supposed to have a valid SR-22 certificate in place and you fail to do so, or if your insurance agency notifies DPS that your policy has been cancelled, lapsed, or terminated.

If you find yourself charged with any type of criminal offense, you need legal advice that only experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys can offer you. As the consequences of any criminal conviction may be severe, you should immediately contact a skilled defense lawyer for help if you have been accused of a criminal offense. Peek & Toland provides strong legal representation on a regular basis for individuals who are charged with various crimes. It is our priority is to represent your interests and protect your rights.  Call us at (512) 474-4445 and schedule an appointment to speak with us today.

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