Diversifying Juries With Higher Pay
Serving as a juror is a meaningful opportunity for impactful civic engagement, allowing everyday people to participate in our legal system and in our democracy. Yet, there continues to be a lack of adequate and proper representation in our juries.
While California requires employers to provide time off for jury duty, they are not required to pay their workers while they serve on a jury. If a juror’s job does not cover their wages or salary, the court system compensates them nothing on their first day of service, then only $15 per day after that. The stipend hardly covers gas and parking, let alone lunch in many places.
Consequently, a potential juror often claims financial hardship, so they can go earn their full paycheck instead. That means juries are frequently less diverse and tend to be wealthier. It is fundamentally unjust for potential jurors to opt out due to financial constraints.
In order to address the disproportionate and inequitable jury composition, I have proposed AB-881, or “Be the Jury California.” It increases daily compensation in criminal cases for low- to moderate-income Californians to $100 a day, making jury duty more accessible to all Californians.
To qualify, a juror’s earnings for the past 12 months must be less than 8% of their area’s median income. He or she must also meet at least one of the following:
• Their employer does not compensate for jury service; or
• Their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration of jury service; or
• They are self-employed; or
• They are unemployed.
Additionally, for jurors who don’t meet the above criteria, AB-881 makes $15/day the base pay, as opposed to the cap. This gives courts the flexibility to pay more, if they can and are able to.
This new proposal is modeled after a 2021 bill I authored, AB-1452, which allowed San Francisco to try out a similar program. Since its implementation locally, the results have been substantial.
• 81% of participants say they could not have served without the $100 per day stipend.
• Program participants reflected the racial demographics of the broader San Francisco population with 63% of participants self-identified as people of color.
My hope is the higher pay will result in more diverse juries up and down the state, just like it did in San Francisco. A fundamental aspect of democracy in the United States is the right to a fair trial and a jury of our peers, which means a jury of equals, drawing from different races, genders and socioeconomic classes. But due to the steep financial hardship facing potential jurors, jury service – in its current form – is a luxury for people to participate in. It’s an incredible sacrifice to serve for workers who are surviving paycheck-to-paycheck.
AB-881 is a crucial reform to our criminal legal system. It will make our juries more illustrative of California’s great diversity by establishing a greater incentive for working-class and low-income Californians to serve on juries.
I thank our San Francisco partners at the Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Treasurer’s Office, Superior Court and Bar Association for working to diversify juries in our City. It’s now time to make similar strides statewide.
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 as well as part of South San Francisco.
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