Special to the Vanguard
San Francisco, CA – A program that is the first of its kind in California that will remove barriers to serving on a jury and increase economic and racial diversity of juries launches on Monday in San Francisco. The pilot program passed by the state legislature last year will compensate low-to-moderate-income jurors $100 a day for their jury service in San Francisco Superior Court.
The “Be The Jury” pilot program was created with the goal of establishing juries that are more reflective of San Francisco’s diverse communities.
It was authorized by Assembly Bill 1452, which was co-authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting and Senator Scott Wiener and had backing from San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin and Public Defender Mano Raju.
Beginning on Monday, eligible participants may receive $100 a day for jury duty. Prospective jurors will receive information about the “Be The Jury” Pilot Program along with their jury summons. In addition, judges will also brief prospective jurors about the “Be The Jury” pilot program when they arrive for jury service.
“The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is a cornerstone of our criminal legal system, but we know too often our juries don’t meet that principle because of issues around who has the time and resources to serve. With the launch of the Be The Jury Pilot Program, San Francisco will be taking another big step to ensure that the legal system serves everyone,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
“No one should be priced out of jury service. 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 launch of the Be The Jury pilot program brings us closer to a more accessible, diverse, and just legal system,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros.
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 are disproportionately composed of people who have the financial means to serve despite being unpaid or who have employers who will pay them during their jury service.
The “Be The Jury” pilot program will compensate jurors with low-to-moderate incomes with $100 per day for jury service in criminal trials in San Francisco Superior Court for the duration of the pilot. Jurors are eligible if their household income is less than 80% of the Area Median Income ($74,600 for a single person; $106,550 for a household of four) and if they meet one of the following criteria: (1) their employer does not compensate for jury service; (2) their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration of jury service; (3) they are self-employed; or (4) they are unemployed.
“Every person accused of a crime deserves to have a jury of their peers, but too often that is not the case for our economically disadvantaged clients who are often people of color. The Be The Jury program will enhance justice for the accused and welcome more San Franciscans to participate in this powerful civic duty. I am thrilled that this pilot is up and running,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju.
“Justice demands that our juries reflect the diverse backgrounds of the victims, witnesses, and accused persons whose lives are impacted by their decisions,” said District Attorney Chesa Boudin. “I cosponsored AB1452 to improve the racial and socioeconomic diversity of our juries and the Be The Jury pilot will remove a critical barrier for many prospective jurors’ service in San Francisco. 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.”
Supporters believe the program is much needed in San Francisco especially, where a survey by the Administrative Office of the Courts of California found that 35 percent of jurors report that jury service imposed a financial hardship.
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 no compensation on their first day of service and $15 per day after that.
As a result, many prospective jurors are forced to request financial hardships instead of serving on juries.
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, supporters say.
“Be The Jury’s Pilot program is an innovative way to enable all people, regardless of their economic status, to serve on a jury and have their voice heard in the justice system. We hope that there will be more diverse juries as a result of this program. BASF is proud to have supported this effort and hopes that this pilot will serve as a model for criminal and civil juries throughout California,” said Yolanda Jackson, Executive Director and General Counsel, The Bar Association of San Francisco.
“Everyone deserves a fair trial, but the legal system is full of inequities. 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. I can’t wait to see the results of this pilot program,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), author of AB 1452.
“When our juries aren’t as diverse as the general population, it leads to a serious equity issue in our criminal justice system. The Constitution guarantees the right to a jury of your peers. Increasing juror compensation and the Be The Jury Pilot Program are key to achieving that,” said Senator Scott Wiener.
The “Be The Jury” pilot program is funded by philanthropic dollars raised by the San Francisco Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project. Stakeholders will conduct an evaluation of the pilot program once it is completed.