Justices back DeSantis request for statewide grand jury

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TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday approved Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate immigration-related issues such as the smuggling of undocumented children into the state.

Justices, in a four-page unanimous order, said the statewide grand jury will be impaneled for a year in the 10th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. The circuit’s chief judge, Ellen Masters, will preside over the grand jury.

Mirroring DeSantis’ request, the order listed a series of issues that the grand jury could probe.

As an example, the grand jury could look into “parents, guardians or other family members of unaccompanied alien children who have conspired with transnational criminal organizations or other illicit actors to smuggle, and thus endanger, their children.”

As another example, the grand jury could investigate transnational criminal organizations, “their members, or other illicit actors who smuggle or traffic unaccompanied alien children or other illegal aliens to Florida.”

The Supreme Court said the grand jury will have “jurisdiction throughout the state of Florida, to investigate crime, return indictments, make presentments and otherwise perform all functions of (a) grand jury with regard to the offenses” listed in the order.

Impaneling statewide grand juries is relatively rare. Perhaps the highest-profile statewide grand jury in recent years was formed to investigate school safety and other issues after the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

But DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody have focused heavily on immigration issues, frequently criticizing the Biden administration’s border policies. Moody, among other things, has filed or signed onto a series of lawsuits challenging the federal policies.

DeSantis announced his request for a statewide grand jury June 17 during an appearance at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. During that appearance, he also signed a controversial bill (SB 1808) that includes barring state and local government agencies from contracting with transportation companies that bring undocumented immigrants into the state and expanding a 2019 law that sought to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” in Florida.

In a 12-page petition to the Supreme Court requesting the grand jury, DeSantis and his general counsel, Ryan Newman, listed numerous issues as justification for an investigation. The reasons included the smuggling of undocumented children who can be sexually exploited or used to traffic drugs or weapons. The petition also said that many undocumented immigrants end up in Florida.

“As more illegal aliens enter the United States and settle in Florida, more will seek to have their children illegally smuggled here as well,” the petition said.

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