The Need to Diversify Juries
It is our civic duty to serve on a jury, but many Americans are unable to participate because they cannot afford to take unpaid time off from work. This means a smaller pool of potential jurors that often results in juries that are wealthier and less diverse – not at all reflective of the communities they serve.
In order for justice to be delivered fairly, it is essential that our juries are inclusive of all races, genders and income levels. That’s what a “jury of peers” means: a jury of equals. But we often don’t achieve it.
In San Francisco, one of the problems is compensation, which is currently only $15 per day of service. It’s no wonder juries aren’t more diverse. That amount is less than the City’s hourly minimum wage, and it barely covers transportation or parking and lunch.
Given these circumstances, I have introduced Assembly Bill 1452, a bill authorizing the San Francisco Superior Court to implement the “Be The Jury” pilot program, which would increase the pay of low- to moderate-income jurors to $100 a day. The goal is to see if it will make jury demographics more representative of the community.
Studies have shown diverse juries spend more time in deliberations and are less likely to presume guilt. This could help improve the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.
Jurors would be eligible for this program if their household income is less than 80% of the Area Median Income, which is $71,700 for a single person or $102,500 for a household of four. They must also meet one of the following criteria:
• Their employer does not compensate for jury service;
• Their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration of their service;
• They are self-employed or unemployed.
“Be The Jury” would be paid for by philanthropic funds raised by the San Francisco Financial Justice Project. The money is already raised. All that is needed to start implementation is the passage of AB-1452, which, as of this writing, I am striving to do by the Sept. 10 legislative deadline. Gov. Gavin Newsom then would have a month to sign it into law.
Once the “Be The Jury” project is completed, stakeholders will evaluate whether the program was effective in reducing racial and economic disparities in juries, leading to more equitable outcomes.
This is the latest part of my work in the Assembly to improve the criminal justice system. I previously authored a bill allowing for resentencing, if the local district attorney considers the original punishment too harsh. I have also passed legislation giving judges discretion to order misdemeanor diversion programs in lieu of prosecution. Another law I authored automates the expungement of criminal records for lower-level offenses, to help people re-enter society by making it easier to find a job and housing.
The criminal justice system cannot operate fairly if juries do not reflect the communities they serve. All San Franciscans, regardless of their race or economic status, deserve an opportunity to serve. Let’s give everyone a chance to participate in the justice system without harming their finances by compensating them fairly.
Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the west side of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City. He lives in the Sunset District. He can be reached at (415) 557-2312 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and updates, visit https://a19.asmdc.org.