FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Feb. 15, 2023
MEDIA CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office | PubDef-MediaRelations@sfgov.org; | (415) 851-2212
Asm. Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) Introduces State Bill to Ease Financial Hardship of Jury Service, Increase Racial and Economic Diversity of Juries
AB 881, known as Be The Jury California, would expand San Francisco’s successful Be The Jury program statewide, and raise daily pay to $100 for low-to-moderate-income jurors in criminal cases.
SAN FRANCISCO — Today, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) announced on the steps of the Hall of Justice in San Francisco that he has introduced a new state bill—Be The Jury CA (AB 881)—that would raise juror pay to $100 a day for low-to-moderate-income jurors in criminal cases across California. Ting, along with San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods, spoke about how the bill will ensure that all Californians have access to a jury of their peers, as promised by the U.S. Constitution. Due to the steep financial hardship facing potential jurors, stakeholders agree that juries have become increasingly less diverse. AB 881 would build on San Francisco’s successful Be The Jury pilot program to assist jurors across the state of California, and enjoys support from both prosecutors and public defenders.
“This bill would make criminal juries across California fairer and a more accurate reflection of their communities, bringing us all closer to what the Constitution promises — a jury of our peers,” said Assemblymember Ting. “The right to a jury of one’s peers is at the core of our justice system. Individuals from all economic classes are entitled to serve on juries and should receive adequate compensation for doing so.”
While California requires employers to provide time off for employees who are summoned to jury duty, employers are not required to pay employees who serve on a jury. If a juror’s employer does not cover their salary, jurors earn nothing on their first day of service and only $15 per day after that.
“Be The Jury made it possible for me to serve as a juror without worrying about whether I could afford meals or meet my basic needs,” said Kiswendsida Kola, a participant in San Francisco’s Be The Jury program.
Because many low-income families cannot afford to forfeit days, weeks, or months of their salary, many minimum wage or low-income workers who file a claim of financial hardship are excused from service. Due to racial income inequality, low jury pay excludes many Black and Latinx community members from ever serving as a juror even though people involved in criminal cases—both the person accused and the person who may have experienced harm—often come from the same communities and share relevant life experiences.
“Too often, our indigent clients in San Francisco, as well as across California, are not afforded the right to a jury of their peers when nobody on the jury looks like them or comes from their communities,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “Be The Jury CA can start to re-balance the scales of justice.”
“Far too often when our Black clients go to trial, there is not a single person on the jury who looks like them. This is not justice,” said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods. “This bill will make it easier for Black and Brown people to serve on juries, and that’s going to mean fairer trials for our clients and communities.”
“This bill will improve the criminal justice system statewide significantly by ensuring that more residents are able to perform their civic duty across the state,” said San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “When all people, regardless of income, are able to participate in the process, we get better outcomes.”
“No one should be priced out of jury service,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros. “Results from San Francisco’s Be The Jury program demonstrate that this program helps level the playing field.”
“Prior to the San Francisco pilot, juries here were trending whiter and wealthier, which threatens the right to a jury of one’s peers,” said Yolanda Jackson, executive director and general counsel of the Bar Association of San Francisco and its Justice & Diversity Center. “No individual should have to choose between feeding their family and carrying out their civic duty as a juror.”
Under the Be The Jury CA bill, jurors qualify for the daily $100 stipend if their household income is less than 80 percent of their area median income and they meet one of the additional criteria: (1) their employer does not compensate for any jury service; (2) their employer will not compensate for the estimated duration of the trial; (3) they are self-employed; or (4) they are unemployed.
Be The Jury CA is inspired by a highly successful juror pay pilot program in San Francisco made possible by legislation authored by Asm. Ting, and the following justice partners: the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, the San Francisco Financial Justice Project within the Treasurer’s Office, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, the San Francisco Bar Association, and the San Francisco Superior Court.
A recording of today’s press rally can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/sfpublicdefender/videos.