SF welcomes pilot program that increases pay to low-income jurors

‘Be the Jury’ aims to explore if demographics can be improved

San Francisco officials on Tuesday applauded a state bill recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that would increase pay for low-income residents serving on jury duty.

Assembly Bill 1452, authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, establishes the Be The Jury pilot program through a partnership with the San Francisco Superior Court, compensating low-income jurors on criminal trials with $100 per day of jury service.

Newsom signed the bill on Friday, and the program is likely to start in January.

The bill seeks to make juries more racially diverse by affording low-income people the opportunity to participate, as most jurors can either not afford to serve unpaid or are being paid during their service through their employer.

The bill received broad support from San Francisco city leaders, with Treasurer Jose Cisneros, Public Defender Mano Raju and District Attorney Chesa Boudin all cosponsoring it.

“Our juries should reflect San Francisco’s economic and racial diversity but low juror compensation prevents too many people from participating in jury service,” Cisneros said in a statement on Tuesday. “The authorization of the Be The Jury pilot program brings us a step closer to a more accessible, diverse, and just legal system.”

“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,” Raju said.

“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,” Boudin said. “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.”

According to Ting, the pilot program will help the city explore whether higher pay can improve demographics.

“The legal system is full of inequities, and juries lacking diversity exacerbate that,” Ting said. “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.”

Those eligible for the program include jurors whose household income is less than 80 percent of the area media income, which is about $71,700 for a single person and $102,500 for a household of four people. Additionally, eligible jurors include those who don’t get paid for service by their employer, those whose employer will only cover part of the trial’s estimated duration, those who are self-employed, and the unemployed, according to city officials.

The treasurer’s Financial Justice Project was able to fund the program through philanthropic efforts, city officials said.

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