The Florida Supreme Court has granted Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for a statewide grand jury to probe immigration-related crimes including human smuggling (including the smuggling of children into the state), drug smuggling, and human trafficking and the organizations that commit such crimes.
Over the course of the past several months, Troopers from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) have stopped several vehicles headed southbound on I-75 in Brooksville which contained undocumented immigrants en route from Texas and elsewhere to destinations in Florida.
The drivers of those vehicles have been arrested and charged with human smuggling. Their passengers were taken into custody by agents from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the scene.
DeSantis announced his intention to seek the grand jury during a June signing event for SB 1808. That measure forbids state and local government agencies from doing business with transportation companies that bring undocumented immigrants into the state.
In his 12-page petition to the court, DeSantis said that a statewide grand jury was necessary to address human smuggling and other immigration-related crimes in Florida.
“A statewide grand jury is an appropriate vehicle to examine these matters, to identify any deficiencies in current laws and enforcement methods, and to recommend new or revised laws and enforcement methods,” DeSantis’ petition read.
In its June 29 decision, the Florida Supreme Court found that DeSantis has “alleged that good and sufficient reason exists and that it is in the public interest to impanel a statewide grand jury, with 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.”
Under the order, the statewide grand jury will be impaneled for a term of twelve calendar months in the 10th Judicial Circuit with jurisdiction throughout the State of Florida. (The 10th Judicial Circuit serves Hardee, Highlands, and Polk Counties.)
Jurors will be drawn from the certified jury list submitted by the chief judge of the 10th Circuit.
That 10th Judicial Circuit chief judge Ellen S. Masters will serve as the grand jury’s presiding judge.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, the grand jury will be “promptly impaneled.”
Since 1982, there have been 16 statewide grand juries impaneled with the last one in 2019 to investigate “whether school officials committed— and continue to commit—fraud and deceit by mismanaging, failing to use, and diverting funds from multi-million dollar bonds specifically solicited for school safety initiatives” and “whether school officials violated—and continue to violate—state law by systematically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Department of Education.”
The statewide grand jury on immigration is the 21st statewide grand jury to be impaneled.