What is the First Step Act?

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?

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

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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Problems with E-Verify Continue

The purpose of the E-Verify Program is to identify and prevent unauthorized workers from gaining employment in the U.S. While E-Verify is current a voluntary program for employers to use, it may become mandatory as part of a larger immigration reform movement.

In order to use this program, employers use an Internet-based application to check with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and verify that prospective employees are legally eligible to work. The federal government already utilizes the program, as do some states as part of state government hiring procedures.

 

Problems with E-Verify Continue

One of the most common mistakes with E-Verify is incorrect data. If using E-Verify incorrectly designates a person as ineligible to work, he or she may lose out on employment opportunities. This is the case because if a employee receives notice of ineligibility to work, then he or she only has eight working days within which to contact the federal government and try to sort out the problem. If he or she fails to meet this deadline, then DHS issues a final non-confirmation notice and the employer must fire the employee.

Unfortunately, these errors are not unusual. As recently as federal fiscal year 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported that about one in every 400 verifications was erroneous and later reversed after an appeal by the worker. Plus, those numbers include only those workers who took steps to contest the notices of ineligibility. It is estimated that about one percent of applicants, or 1.3 million people, did not contest the E-Verify findings.

Furthermore, correcting these errors often takes a great deal of time and money. Individuals must navigate the huge bureaucracies of the Social Security Administration and/or DHS in an attempt to have even simple errors resolved, such as typographical errors.

At Peek & Toland, we care about helping you obtain the visa that you need, based on your situation. We will focus our efforts on advocating on your behalf and representing your interests throughout the immigration process. Our knowledgeable immigration lawyers know the best strategies for gathering documentation to support your goals. Allow us to handle your immigration law case by sitting down with us today and discussing your situation.

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Immigration Application Mistakes to Avoid

While it always has been wise to avoid mistakes on your immigration application, if for no other reason than to save time in processing, it has never been more important that it is now, due to some recent policy shifts by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). From now on, failing to include a required document or some other information in your application packet could result in an automatic denial of your application, with no recourse but to reapply. Plus, in some situations, this denial notice could immediately trigger deportation proceedings.

This past summer, USCIS announced that it would deny any immigration application that lacks a required document. Under this policy, USCIS will simply issue a denial of any such application without notice to the applicant or giving the applicant a chance to correct the deficiency. This will require individuals to completely resubmit their completed applications and pay the filing fee again in order to have USCIS consider their applications. Previously, USCIS remedied errors in applications by issuing a Request for Evidence (RFE) to obtain any missing documentation or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID), which is a notice that sets forth the errors in the application. It was only if there was no possibility that USCIS would approve the application that it would issue a denial notice.

Additionally, if the denial of the application results in immigrants being present in the U.S. with no lawful immigration status, USCIS may immediately place them in deportation proceedings. This is a lengthy and expensive process with serious consequences, including detention and deportation.

Immigration Application Mistakes to Avoid

As a result of these policy changes, it is essential that applicants, regardless of the type of applications they are submitting, take the time to review their applications and ensure that all required documents are included. Some of the more common mistakes seen on immigration applications include:

·         Failing to disclose criminal history

·         Failing to include the application fee, or including the wrong amount

·         Forgetting to sign the application

·         Putting incorrect names on the application

·         Filing the wrong application form

·         Not being completely truthful on the application

All of these mistakes could lead to a summary denial of your application, and in certain situations, could place you in deportation proceedings. Given these consequences, it is worth taking additional time to remedy any mistakes and ensure that you have included all required documents prior to submitting your application.

Peek & Toland dedicates a large part of its practice to helping both individuals and businesses resolve their immigration-related issues. Immigration law is a complex, ever-changing area of the law that necessitates legal advice from experienced immigration lawyers who keep up-to-date with all relevant changes in law and policy. We will work with you to achieve the most positive outcome possible in your situation. Call our office today and set up a consultation with our skilled immigration attorneys today.

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Should I Apply for a Fiance(e) or Spousal Visa?

You can acquire citizenship for an individual through marriage either by using a fiancé(e) visa or a spousal visa, depending on which program is right for you. Although both types of visas require a showing of a bona fide relationship, there are pros and cons to both visas. As a result, you should take some time to educate yourself about those options prior to deciding which visa to pursue.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can use the K-1 visa to bring a fiancé(e) to the U.S. with the intent to marry and live with him or her. The K-1 visa allows the fiancé(e) to travel to the U.S. and marry the U.S. citizen within a 90-day window. This tends to be quicker than obtaining a spousal visa, since it typically only takes about six to seven months to obtain the K-1 visa and then another ten to 11 months for the newly married spouse to become a conditional permanent resident. However, the cost to obtain a K-1 visa is significantly higher than that to obtain a spousal visa.

 

                                       Should I Apply for a Fiance(e) or Spousal Visa?

There are some requirements that you must meet in order to obtain a fiancé(e) visa. Typically, you must have seen your fiancé(e) in person within the last two years prior to seeking a fiancé(e) visa, although this requirement may be waived in cases of extreme hardship or religious practices.  Both of you must be single and eligible for marriage. If either of you have previously been married, you must provide proof of your divorce or a death certificate for your former spouse. The U.S. citizen must have income that is at least 100% of the federal poverty guidelines, and in order to later apply for a green card for the spouse, the U.S. citizen must have income that is at least 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.

If you are a U.S. citizen who already married an immigrant outside of the U.S., and you now wish to bring your spouse to the U.S., you may be able to do so by filing the I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This process allows you to sponsor your spouse for a green card. It is cheaper to obtain a spousal visa than a fiancé(e) visa, but the process is lengthier. It often takes ten to 13 months or longer to get a spousal visa.

When you or a loved one is facing an immigration law dilemma, you need legal advice and counsel from experienced Texas immigration attorneys. At Peek & Toland, we are here to help you with your immigration case. We will devote all our efforts to representing your interests, answering your questions, and calming your concerns. Don’t hesitate to contact Peek & Toland and schedule a time to meet with us today. We can help protect your rights and get you the relief that you need.

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Is Sexting a Crime in Texas?

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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What is the Texas Prescription Monitoring Program?

The Texas Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) is an electronic database that the Texas State Board of Pharmacy uses to collect and monitor prescription drug data for all Schedule II, III, IV, and V controlled substances used by Texas residents, whether they are dispensed from a Texas pharmacy or by a pharmacy in another state. Medical practitioners also can use the PMP to monitor a patient’s prescription history and to request official Texas Schedule II prescription forms. Through this tool, practitioners and pharmacists can help ensure that patients are not overprescribed controlled substances and eliminate duplicate prescriptions.

Most recently, on September 1, 2018, the state issued a new official Schedule II prescription form with enhanced security features. Effective June 1, 2019, all prior versions of the form will become invalid.

What is the Texas Prescription Monitoring Program?

Another change to the PMP will take effect on September 1, 2019. On that date, all pharmacists and prescribers will be required to check a patient’s PMP history before dispensing or prescribing opioids, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or carisoprodol. The purpose of this requirement is to identify and eliminate drug-shopping, illicit drug activity, and drug diversion.

Under the PMP, pharmacies must report the dispensing of controlled substances to the PMP no later than the next business day after the prescription is filled. Pharmacies that violate this requirement may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

Unless obtained pursuant to a valid prescription by a licensed practitioner, the possession of any amount of controlled substances continues to be illegal under Texas law. The Texas Controlled Substances Act classifies different controlled substances into penalty groups according to the danger level of risk of misuse that the controlled substance poses. The level of the offenses charged as a result of possessing or trafficking in these drugs differs according to the penalty group in which the drug is classified, the weight of the drug, along with any adulterants and dilutants.

The criminal defense lawyers of Peek & Toland have handled the legal defense of countless individuals who are facing criminal charges, including drug offenses 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 is the VIBE Program?

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Validation Instrument for Business Enterprises (VIBE) program is a web-based tool that is designed to help USCIS more efficiently and uniformly adjudicate certain employment-based immigration petitions and applications. Essentially, VIBE uses commercially available data from Dun & Bradstreet, an independent information provider (IIP) to validate basic information about companies or organizations who are seeking to employ foreign nationals. Some of the information that USCIS receives through the VIBE program includes:

·         Type of business

·         Financial standing, in terms of sales volume and credit standing

·         Number of employees

·         Types of offices

·         Type of legal entity, date of establishment, and identification of company executives

By having this information immediately available from the IIP, USCIS can avoid having to solely rely on paper information provided by the petitioning company, which may be insufficient, in some cases. USCIS uses this information to ensure that the company is qualified to employ the foreign national as requested.

What is the VIBE Program?

USCIS does not rely exclusively on the information provided by VIBE in making its decisions on employment-based immigration petitions. Rather, it uses the information in conjunction with the information provided by the employer in its application to make decisions. If there are vast inconsistencies between the information provided by VIBE and by the employer, then USCIS will contact the employer to clarify and obtain additional information as needed. Once USCIS receives this information, it will make a decision on the application based on the totality of the circumstances.

While a private U.S. company or organization is not required to update its information with the IIP, Dun & Bradstreet, the company can create, verify, or correct the information that the IIP has. This can help minimizing inconsistences between the data that the IIP provides to USCIS and what the employer provides in its application.

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 on a daily basis 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 successfully resolve your immigration law case.

Posted in Immigration, Uncategorized

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Proposal to End Birthright Citizenship Likely Unconstitutional

Leading up to the mid-term elections, the Trump administration announced its intention to end birthright citizenship by executive order. Birthright citizenship refers to the right to U.S. citizenship for all children who are born in the U.S. This stance is consistent with the administration’s long-held views against so-called “anchor babies,” which they claim allows immigrants to seek a legal immigration status via their U.S. citizen children.

Birthright citizenship is a product of the 14th Amendment, which reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

 

Proposal to End Birthright Citizenship Likely Unconstitutional

According to a recent Washington Post article, many members of the administration appeared taken aback by the President’s announcement. Some stated that the idea had not been under consideration in some time and that there had been no major immigration initiatives in the works in recent weeks, and the White House Counsel’s Office is still in a period of transition from the departure of former White House Counsel Donald McGahn and the appointment of new counsel Pat Cipollone, who is still transitioning into the new role.

Many members of Congress, legal scholars, and immigration advocates alike uniformly agreed that such a move would violate the 14th Amendment. Nonetheless, some Republican members of Congress raised the question as to whether this right truly extends to immigrants who are present in the U.S. with no lawful immigration status. Even more dubious, however, is the administration’s professed intent to establish this move via executive order, rather than through taking congressional action and/or seeking to change the 14th Amendment.

Whatever your situation may be, you will need skilled legal assistance to work toward a resolution of your immigration law 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.

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