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California Assembly Passes AB 881 to Increase Diversity in Juries, Boost Jury Pay

Los Angeles County Would Be Part Of The Pilot Program If AB 881 Is Passed

By Dolores Quintana

AB 881, sponsored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), has been approved in the Assembly to enhance racial and economic diversity in California juries. The bill proposes increasing jury pay in criminal trials from the current $15 per day to $100 per day for low-to-moderate-income jurors.

Originally intended as a statewide measure, the legislation has been amended to establish a pilot program in five counties: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Alameda, Kern, and Monterey. In California, as in many other states, employers are required to provide time off for jury duty, but they are not obligated to compensate their employees during their service. Consequently, many workers seek to be excused from jury duty in order to continue earning income from their jobs.

“The right to a jury of one’s peers is fundamental to our justice system, and financial hardship should not prevent someone from participating in our democracy,” stated Ting. “Individuals from all walks of life have the right to serve on juries and should receive fair compensation for doing so.”

Low jury pay poses a significant barrier for many people of color who cannot afford to serve as jurors, despite often sharing the same backgrounds and relevant life experiences as the accused. Under AB 881, known as the Be The Jury Pilot program, jurors would qualify for the $100 daily stipend if their household income is below 80 percent of the area median income and meets one of two criteria: (1) the juror does not receive compensation for jury duty from their employer, or (2) the juror is self-employed or unemployed.

Ting’s legislation has garnered support from both prosecutors and public defenders, who are concerned about the decreasing diversity among juries. Studies indicate that when juries are more representative of the communities they serve, they engage in lengthier deliberations and are less likely to presume guilt, thereby contributing to fair trials for defendants.

“Every day, jurors make critical decisions in criminal trials but are only paid $15 per day—an amount that has remained stagnant for over 20 years. As a result, many low to moderate-income community members are often excluded from serving as jurors. This is undemocratic,” emphasized San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “AB 881 is a targeted and tested approach to increasing jury diversity that fairly and directly compensates qualifying Californians, enabling them to fulfill their highest civic duty.”
“I would like to thank Assemblymember Ting for his leadership and tireless efforts to expand Be The Jury,” expressed San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “Ensuring equal access for all community members to serve on juries regardless of income will strengthen our criminal justice system and ensure that verdicts represent our communities and values. I urge the California Senate to pass this bill.”

AB 881 builds upon the successful Be The Jury pilot program in San Francisco, which was also championed by Ting two years ago under AB 1452. The results of the program’s first six months of implementation have been significant:

  • Eighty-one percent of participants stated that they would not have been able to serve without the $100 daily stipend.
  • Program participants reflected the racial demographics of the broader San Francisco population, with 63 percent identifying as people of color.

The bill will now proceed to the Senate for further consideration.

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