Today, Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San José) introduced AB 1981 to increase juror diversity by allowing jurors to be reimbursed for using public transportation, which will encourage greener ways to travel, and expand access to Californians without cars to fulfill their civic duties. The bill will also create a pilot program to increase juror compensation, so that it does not become a financial hardship to serve on a jury.
The right to a trial by jury applies to both criminal and civil cases and is recognized as the foundation of the American court system. However, jury trials cannot be held unless people are willing and able to perform their civic duties.
Currently, jurors can only be reimbursed for traveling in passenger vehicles at the rate of $0.34 per mile one-way, and there is no mechanism to compensate jurors for taking public transit. This disadvantages Californians who do not own a car, are unable to drive, or prefer other modes of transportation. By allowing jurors to be reimbursed for taking public transit, jurors are given more options as well as an incentive to take public transit, which is in line with the state’s emission reduction goals.
AB 1981 will also create a pilot program to increase juror compensation. While jurors who serve on federal juries in California receive $50 per day, with the potential to increase to up to $60 per day after serving ten days, California only pays jurors $15 per day (starting on the second day of service). Despite a high cost of living, the state pays its jurors at much lower rates when compared to the federal court system.
In 2003, the Task Force on Jury System Improvements (TFJS), created by the Judicial Council in 1998, released its report indicating the need for the state to increase juror pay to at least $40 per day as well as reimburse for travel both to and from court.
A 2004 study found that diverse groups deliberated longer and considered a wider range of information than homogeneous groups. However, the high cost of living in California makes it nearly impossible for anyone to make ends meet on a low payment of $15 per day. This leads to jurors being excused for financial hardship, which in turn decreases the diversity of juries, resulting in trials that are not as representative of the community.
“By expanding reimbursement options for taking transit and increasing juror pay, we can have juries that are more reflective of our communities which leads to better outcomes and better experiences for the jurors,” said Assemblymember Alex Lee.