Editor’s note: The Signal is presenting CalMatters’ wrap-up stories on some of the key bills that reached the governor’s desk at the close of the 2023 legislative session. Here’s the CalMatters summary of a bill that would have increased pay for jury members.
Assembly Bill 881 would expand a test of higher jury service payments — started in San Francisco in 2022 under another bill by Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat — to four more counties. By increasing the daily stipend from $15 to $100, the goal is to diversify juries in criminal trials.
To qualify, a juror’s household income must be less than 80% of their area’s median income and they cannot be compensated by their employer, or must be self-employed or unemployed.
Under current law in the 57 other counties, employers are required to let workers serve on juries but are not required to pay them. Low-wage employees are excused from juries due to financial hardship, and many of them are people of color.
The bill initially specified Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles and Monterey as the new test counties. The final version would have allowed the state Judicial Council to select the four counties to try the program until Jan. 1, 2027.
Who Supports It
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and the San Francisco public defender’s office, which says that criminal trials are less fair without diverse juries and that some defendants accept plea bargains rather than risk a jury trial.
“This is not justice,” the office said in an argument submitted to the Legislature. “On the contrary, these plea deals often lead to incarceration, devastating families and historically criminalized communities.”
Who Is Opposed
While the bill didn’t have official opposition, it does come with a cost of $4 million to $9 million a year, though the Judicial Council would be allowed to accept private or other money.
Why It Matters
This bill is another part of criminal justice reform: The U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to be judged by a jury of their peers. But that doesn’t always happen in practice, particularly for the poor and people of color.
The Be The Jury program helped San Francisco courts get closer to that ideal. In its first year, 495 people participated, in 9% of criminal trials: 84% said they could not have served without the higher stipend, 60% identified as a person of color and they reported a median household income of $38,000 a year, far below the citywide average of nearly $122,000.
The Governor’s Call
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Oct. 8 he vetoed the bill. In his veto message, he expressed concern about the potential cost. “While I appreciate the author’s work to create a more equal justice system, this policy needs to be part of budget discussions,” he wrote.