By The Vanguard Staff
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A state legislative attempt to make juries more reflective of the community – to be tried out first in San Francisco – became a possibility last Friday when Gov. Newsom signed into law a pilot program to compensate low-income jurors $100 a day; jurors now get paid just $15 a day.
AB 1452 is authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting and co-authored by Senator Scott Wiener, and co-sponsored by San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros, Public Defender Mano Raju, and District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
The first-of-its-kind pilot program will be tested first in San Francisco Superior Court as early as January 2022.
“Thanks to Governor Newsom’s signature, the Be The Jury pilot program can start to re-balance the scales of justice and remove the financial hardship that deprives thousands of San Franciscans from what should be a sacred right to serve on juries,” said San Francisco PD Raju.
A statement released by the PD’s office noted that “Because income inequality is strongly correlated with race and ethnicity, juries have become less racially diverse due to an inability to afford to participate. Juries tend to be composed of people who can afford to serve unpaid or who have employers who will pay them while they are serving.”
“Having a jury of one’s peers is one of the most cherished rights in our American legal system, but, too often, our indigent clients in our own diverse city are not afforded that right when nobody on the jury looks like them or comes from their communities,” the SF PD added.
The so-called “Be The Jury” pilot program will pay jurors with low-to-moderate incomes $100 per day for jury service in criminal trials in San Francisco Superior Court if their household income is less than 80 percent of the Area Median Income ($71,700 for a single person; $102,500 for a household of four) and if (1) their employer does not compensate for jury service; OR (2) their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration of jury service; OR (3) they are self-employed; OR (4) they are unemployed.
“I strongly believe that the Be The Jury pilot program will help ensure that San Francisco juries are more economically and racially diverse, and therefore better able to administer justice that reflects the values of diverse San Francisco communities. “I am grateful to Governor Newsom for signing this bill into law and to Assemblymember Ting for sponsoring this historic policy, further enhancing equity and fairness in the criminal legal system,” said San Francisco DA Boudin.
The Public Defender’s Office said a survey by the Administrative Office of the Courts of California found 35 percent of jurors report that jury service imposed a financial hardship.
The PD noted “While California law requires employers to provide time off for employees who are summoned to jury duty, employers are not required to compensate employees who serve on a jury. If a juror’s employer does not cover their salary while serving, jurors earn nothing on their first day of service and $15 per day after that. Providing fair compensation to people who otherwise cannot afford to serve on a jury due to financial hardship is the first step in creating a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse justice system.”
“The legal system is full of inequities, and juries lacking diversity exacerbate that. Studies show when juries are more reflective of the communities they serve, they spend more time deliberating the case and are less likely to presume guilt, which ultimately helps defendants get a fair trial,” said Assemblymember Ting (D-San Francisco).
“Our juries should reflect San Francisco’s economic and racial diversity, but low juror compensation prevents too many people from participating in jury service. The authorization of the Be The Jury pilot program brings us a step closer to a more accessible, diverse, and just legal system,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros.
“The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) strongly believes that the Be The Jury pilot program (AB 1452) will help ensure that San Francisco juries are more economically and racially diverse, and therefore better able to administer justice that reflects the values of diverse San Francisco communities,” said Yolanda Jackson, Executive Director and General Counsel, BASF.
The Be The Jury pilot program is funded by philanthropic dollars raised by the San Francisco Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project.