Yesterday, AB 1981 by Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose) was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. AB 1981 allows jurors to be reimbursed for using public transportation and creates 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, but jury trials can’t be held unless people are able to perform their civic duties,” said Assemblymember Alex Lee. “By expanding reimbursement options for taking transit and increasing juror pay, we can have juries that are more reflective of our communities leading to better outcomes and better experiences for the jurors.”
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 will encourage greener ways to travel, and expand access to Californians without cars to fulfill their civic duties.
Despite the high cost of living in California, the state pays its jurors at much lower rates when compared to the federal court system. 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. However, California currently only pays jurors $15 per day (starting on the second day of service). While studies have shown that diverse groups deliberated longer and considered a wider range of information than homogeneous groups, the high cost of living in California makes it nearly impossible for working families to make ends meet on the current low payment of $15 per day.
By expanding reimbursement to include the utilization of public transit and exploring the benefits of increased juror compensation through a pilot program, financial hardship will decrease and juror diversity will increase, leading to better jury outcomes.
The bill is co-authored by Assemblymembers Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys), Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) and Senators Josh Becker (D-Peninsula), Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).