A Texas Border Security Initiative Loses Its Way

Man testifying in a Texas criminal court

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Jails along the Texas and Mexico border have been filling up with migrants over the past several months – but charges are not being filed, and attorneys are not being assigned –in direct violation of state laws. Unfortunately, not much – if anything – is being done about it.

According to The Texas Tribune, thousands of migrants have been arrested on trespassing charges under one of the governor’s border security initiatives, and problems are brewing.

If you are facing criminal charges of any kind, it is important to recognize that you do have legal rights, and an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney can help you protect them.

The Basics

For more than eight months, Texas police have been – on the governor’s orders – rounding up and arresting migrants on trespassing charges.

However, a group of defense attorneys speaking to the state’s highest criminal court shared that some of these men have been behind bars for months without access to attorneys and without having misdemeanor charges filed against them, which is in direct violation of Texas laws.

Texas courts continue to battle the constitutionality of mass migrant arrests – signed off on by the governor – at the border of Texas and Mexico. Recent filings report a persistent and consistent pattern in which migrant men are being detained illegally for months at a time while their cases get lost in the courts’ overwhelmed dockets.

Texas Law

Texas law requires the following when someone is arrested and charged with a misdemeanor in the state:

  • The defendant must be assigned an attorney within three days of asking for one.

  • If prosecutors fail to file charges within thirty days of arrest, the defendant must be released from jail.

According to a legal aid organization that represents hundreds of migrant men who have recently been arrested for trespassing on private property along Texas borders, these time constraints and deadlines are routinely overlooked.

In fact, two of the men represented were housed in state prison for almost five months without being assigned attorneys and without charges being filed – in response to their inability to post a $1,500 bail.

Efforts to address the violations of due process – and get the men out of prison – have met with nothing but roadblocks from court officials.

The Rest of the Story

In July of 2021, the governor of Texas ordered state troopers working in specific areas of the Texas–Mexico border to simply arrest those men who are suspected of coming into the country illegally on state charges (usually the charge of trespassing on private property).

This aggressive approach swiftly led to legal errors as the Texas county’s criminal justice system struggled to keep up with the overwhelming wave of migrant defendants.

Within two months, a local judge ordered that 250 of the men who had been languishing in prison for over a month (with no charges forthcoming) be released. Many of these men had not even had an attorney assigned to them. The necessary prosecutorial capacity was lacking, and the hundreds of arrested men paid the price.

Ultimately, the state poured resources, including judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors, into its efforts, and from October 2021 to February 2022, there were almost 1,700 related trespassing hearings, and about 500 of the men in question pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of trespassing on private property.

Unfortunately, this does not resolve the concern – more than 3,000 trespassing arrests have been reported in total.

As it stands, those men who cannot afford to post bail are spending about three or four months in prison before they get their chance to go before a judge. In exchange for a guilty plea, these men are offered immediate release. If they fail to plead guilty, however, they face indefinite jail time.

As of March 18, 2022 (according to The Texas Tribune), no trespassing trial dates had been set for these men.

Your Legal Rights

It is important to understand that, if you are charged with a crime, you have legal rights, and a dedicated criminal defense attorney can help you protect them.

Stopped by the Police in Public

If you are stopped by the police while you are in public, there are specific steps you should take to help protect your rights.

Remain Silent

If you are stopped by the police in public, you have the right to remain silent. Other than providing the police with basic identifying information, you do not have to answer any additional questions – about where you live, where you are going, what you are doing, or anything else.

The first step in exercising your right to remain silent is letting the officer know that you will be exercising this right – and then remaining silent.

Object to a Search

Additionally, you do not have to submit to a search of either yourself or your belongings (such as your bag or your vehicle), but you may be patted down to ensure you do not have a weapon on you.

While objecting to a search may not stop it, your initial objection to the search may help you better protect your rights as you move forward through the legal process.

Assert Your Right to an Attorney

If you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney, and you should assert this right.

Reduce Your Risk

Being arrested is an immensely stressful experience, but if you let this get the better of you, it can make the situation that much more difficult – or even dangerous. If you are arrested, keeping all the following advice in mind can help you protect your rights and your safety:

  • Remain as calm as you can.

  • Do not run from, resist, or attempt to obstruct your arresting officers.

  • Do not provide false documentation or lie to the officers who arrest you.

  • Keep your hands where the police can see them at all times.

Once arrested, ask for an attorney and do not say or sign anything – or make any decisions – prior to consulting with your attorney.

Another good point to keep in mind is that you have the right to make a local phone call, and while the police do not have the legal right to listen in to that call if it is with an attorney, they are very likely to listen in to any call you make to anyone else.

If the Police Come to Your Home

When you are in the privacy of your own home, the Fourth Amendment ensures that the police cannot enter it unless highly specific requirements are met. However, the police sometimes barge ahead and worry about the legal details after the fact. Knowing your rights when it comes to your home is the best way to help protect these rights.

Understanding Warrants

Once the police have a warrant to enter your home, the legal right to enter is established. A warrant is an official order that must be issued and signed by a judge, and that is predicated on evidence supporting the officer’s assertion that there is probable cause for invading your privacy and home.

Warrants are grouped into three basic categories:

  • Search Warrants: A search warrant allows officers or other agents of the state to enter the home, dwelling, or premises that are identified in the warrant. Search warrants place specific parameters on what and where the officers can search. Anything outside this scope is against the law.

  • Arrest Warrants: An arrest warrant allows officers or other agents of the state to track someone down and arrest him or her on criminal charges. If the officers have a reasonable belief that the person being arrested is in a specific dwelling or on specific premises, the arrest warrant allows entry.

  • ICE Warrants for Removal or Deportation: When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issues federal warrants, they are officially called detainers, but they work in much the same way as warrants.

Access without a Warrant

There are some instances when an officer can enter your home without a warrant:

  • You provide consent to enter.

  • There is something in plain view that promotes entry.

  • There are extenuating circumstances that promote entry.

The Steps in a Criminal Procedure

If you are charged with a crime, a better understanding of the basic steps in a criminal procedure can help.

Your Booking

Your booking is the administrative portion of your arrest, and it involves recording all the following information:

  • Your name

  • The crime you have been charged with

  • Your address and telephone number

  • Your mugshot and fingerprints

Your Arraignment

Your arraignment is your initial appearance in court, and at your arraignment, you will be informed about the charge against you and will be provided with the police report and the basic facts and evidence in your case. At your arraignment, you will enter your plea, and if that plea is not guilty, which is generally advised, a trial date will be set.

Your Bail

If you are in jail while your trial date is pending, bail may be set. In order to get out of jail, you will need to post your bail with the court, which is intended to ensure that you show up for your required court appearances.

The Potential for a Plea Bargain

Before you go to trial, your criminal defense attorney may engage in plea bargaining with the prosecution. This involves weighing your best options and determining how motivated the prosecution is to make a deal. Sometimes, a plea bargain is the way to go, and sometimes, proceeding to court is considered a better option. Your knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will help you make the right decisions for you.

Your Trial

At trial, both sides present their evidence, witnesses, and opening and closing statements. The judge then provides the jury with instructions, and – after deliberation – the jury comes back with a verdict, which generally is either not guilty, guilty, or guilty of a less serious charge. If you are found guilty, the next step may be a post-trial motion, such as filing a motion for a new trial.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

If you or someone you love is facing a criminal charge, you should take the matter seriously from the outset, and one of the most important first steps you should consider taking is consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

The consequences of a conviction for even a relatively minor misdemeanor charge can be significant, and the attendant loss in social standing can prove very difficult to overcome.

Having a seasoned criminal defense attorney in your corner can help in all the following ways:

  • Your attorney will help to ensure that you understand the details and scope of the charge that has been filed against you.

  • Your attorney will gather all the available evidence in your case and will craft your strongest defense around that evidence.

  • Your attorney will explore defense strategies and will determine which is most likely to prove advantageous for your unique situation.

  • Your attorney will negotiate with the prosecution to explore the possibility of a beneficial plea bargain.

  • Your attorney will help you understand the legal process and will help you make the right decisions for you along the way.

Turn to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney for the Help You Are Looking For

If you or someone you love is facing a criminal charge, protecting your legal rights – in pursuit of your case’s most advantageous outcome – is paramount.

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is an accomplished criminal defense attorney who recognizes the serious nature of your situation and is both well prepared and well positioned to help.

Our legal team has a wealth of experience successfully guiding cases like yours toward beneficial resolutions, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about how we can help you today.