Lower-Income Jurors in San Francisco Now Can Make $100 a Day, Under New Pilot Program

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Close-up of a small bronze statuette of Lady Justice before a flag of California.
A small bronze statuette of Lady Justice before a flag of California. (Gwengoat via iStock/Getty Images Plus)

A new pilot program launched this week in San Francisco Superior Court will pay lower- to moderate-income jurors $100 a day for their service in criminal trials.

The city's “Be the Jury” program, the first of its kind in the state, aims to create a more racially and economically diverse pool of jurors, according to city officials. They note that juries are disproportionately made up of residents who either are compensated by their employers or have the means to get by with virtually no pay.

“This will just help us create a more fair system of justice,” said Anne Stuhldreher, director of the Financial Justice Project in the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office, which will oversee the program.

Jurors can qualify for the enhanced payment if they earn less than 80% of the area median income — $74,600 for a single person and $106,550 for a family of four — and are not compensated by their employer for jury service.

While California law requires employers to provide time off for employees who are summoned to jury duty, they are not required to compensate them for that time. If salary is not covered, jurors across the state are paid just $15 per day, starting on their second day of service.

As a result, many prospective jurors request to be excused from service due to financial hardship.

Some 35% of jurors in California said jury service imposed a financial hardship on them, according to a recent survey by the Judicial Council of California.

“Justice demands that our juries reflect the diverse backgrounds of the victims, witnesses, and accused persons whose lives are impacted by their decisions,” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in a statement. “We must continue to find ways to promote and enable jury service for all San Franciscans, so that our juries reflect our diverse communities and are able to administer justice for all San Franciscans.”

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The program, which the city will pay for through fundraising efforts, was created by Assembly Bill 1452, introduced last year by San Francisco Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting. It will remain in effect through 2023, although the court can end it earlier if it “determines the increased financial reimbursement is causing prejudice to the rights of litigants or the interests of justice.”

The legislation requires the city to collect the self-reported data of jurors who receive the increased compensation, and allow a third party to analyze it and report on the program's efficacy.

Prospective jurors in San Francisco will receive information about the new program with their jury summons, and can call 311 or visit the court’s website to learn more about it. Judges also are expected to start briefing prospective jurors about the program at the beginning of their jury service.

“Everyone deserves a fair trial, but the legal system is full of inequities,” Ting said in a statement. “I’m excited to see whether higher pay for jury duty authorized under my legislation will improve our criminal justice system. Studies show when juries are diverse and reflective of the communities they serve, they tend to spend more time deliberating the case and are less likely to presume guilt.”

This post includes reporting from KQED's Spencer Whitney and Farida Jhabvala Romero.

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