The California Legislature today approved AB 881, the Be the Jury pilot program, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), allowing five counties to increase jury pay in criminal trials from $15 a day to $100 a day for low-to-moderate income jurors. The pilot program seeks to see whether a higher stipend results in juries that are more racially and economic diverse.
“Californians from all backgrounds are entitled to serve on juries. When financial hardship determines whether someone can be participate in our democracy, we miss out on a diversity of perspectives. Studies show when juries are more reflective of the communities they serve, they spend more time in deliberations and are less likely to presume guilt, which help defendants get a fair trial,” said Ting. “AB 881 helps ensure the accused gets a jury of their peers.”
Be The Jury would authorize San Francisco and four additional counties, chosen by Judicial Council to reflect urban and rural diversity, to operate this pilot program. California, like many states, requires employers to provide time off for jury duty, but paying their employees while serving is not required. In turn, many workers often seek to be excused from their civic duty, so they can go to their jobs to earn more money.
“Serving as a juror is the most meaningful opportunity that a person can have to participate in our criminal legal system,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “Raising juror pay for low-income Californians through AB 881 is a proven and cost-effective measure that will allow many more people to perform this critical civic duty.”
“Eliminating financial barriers to jury service by increasing juror pay for low-income Californians will strengthen our criminal justice system,” said San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “I urge Governor Newsom to sign this commonsense bill that will allow more counties to participate in the Be The Jury program, paving the way for all counties and other states across the country to implement this important criminal justice system reform.”
Under AB 881, jurors qualify for the daily $100 stipend if their household income is less than 80 percent of their area median income and meets one of following criteria: (1) Juror is not compensated for jury duty by their employer or (2) Juror is self-employed or unemployed.
"No one should have to choose between financial stability and contributing to civic life by serving on a jury,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros. “AB 881 is a critical step to establishing juries that are representative of the community at large.”
AB 881 would build on San Francisco’s own successful Be The Jury pilot program, which Ting also championed two years ago under AB 1452. In its first year of implementation, the impact has been substantial:
- 84 percent said they could not have served without the $100 per day stipend
- 60 percent self-identified as a person of color
- Median household income of participants is $38,000 a year; for San Francisco, it’s $121,826
The Governor has until October 14th to act on AB 881.