Florida State Courts Don’t Have Jurisdiction To Determine Detainer Constitutionality
By David Jaroslav | January 4, 2019
On December 27, 2018, a Florida appellate court reversed a state trial court’s decision that held Miami-Dade County’s policy of holding illegal aliens on immigration detainers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was unconstitutional. Although the Third District Court of Appeals’ (DCA) opinion in Junior v. LaCroix did not rule on whether the detainer policy is constitutional, the case is still highly encouraging and may have implications far beyond the Sunshine State.
In January of 2017, illegal alien James LaCroix was arrested twice for felony driving with a suspended license as a habitual traffic offender. The second arrest resulted in the revocation of his bond from his first case. While he was in custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed an immigration detainer on him with the county jail. At the end of February, state trial judge Milton Hirsch sentenced him to time served on both cases. Rather than releasing LaCroix, the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections held him on the detainer until ICE could pick him up. While in ICE’s custody, LaCroix’s lawyers sued Department of Corrections Director Daniel Junior seeking his release. Judge Hirsch ordered Junior to release LaCroix, declaring that the county’s policy violated the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Third DCA reversed Judge Hirsch’s order, finding that “a state trial court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate the validity of a federal immigration detainer.” The Third DCA determined the precedent set by Florida’s Fourth DCA, in Ricketts v. Palm Beach County Sheriff to be binding and blasted Judge Hirsch for ignoring Ricketts.
What the court in Ricketts explained, and the court in Junior reaffirmed, is that “[o]nce [an inmate] posts bond on his state charges or his state sentence expires, he will be "released" from state custody and then booked on the federal immigration detainer. At that point, the sheriff will not be holding [him] pursuant to state authority but pursuant to federal authority, and the legality of the detainer and the process by which he is held will be a question for the federal courts.”
While some state courts have recently held that state and local law enforcement cannot honor detainers – Massachusetts in Lunn v. Commonwealth (2017) and New York in Francis v. DeMarco (2018) – they never even considered whether they had jurisdiction to rule on the question. Taken together, Ricketts and Junior provide strong persuasive authority that can and should be considered by other state courts when they are invariably confronted with the same or similar issues. Indeed, even before this latest ruling in Junior, state courts in both North Carolina and Ohio followed Ricketts and determined they had no jurisdiction.
LaCroix’s attorneys have 15 days to ask the Third DCA to reconsider its ruling. After that, they have another 30 days to decide whether to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, giving them a final deadline of February 11. If they appeal, the Florida Supreme Court does not have to accept the case for review.