Unique Pilot Program to Increase Juror Pay Shows Success in Expanding Racial and Economic Diversity in San Francisco Jury Pools, New Report Shows

The Be The Jury program, which compensates low- to moderate-income jurors $100 per day, fosters increased economic and racial participation on juries

Posted November 29, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Financial Justice Project, housed in the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector, today released a report, Preliminary Findings from the First Six Months of the Be The Jury Pilot Program, which shows success in increasing economic and racial diversity of jury pools in San Francisco. The Be The Jury Pilot Program tests whether providing $100 per day as compensation to low- to moderate-income jurors helps foster juries that are made up of a balanced cross section of San Francisco residents. These results were featured in a San Francisco Chronicle  article by Justin Phillips.

This report highlights promising results from the program:

  • The vast majority of Be The Jury participants (81 percent) state that they could not have served without the $100 per day stipend.
  • Program participants reflect the racial demographics of the broader San Francisco population. Sixty-three percent of participants self-identified as people of color.
  • Feedback from program participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants report having learned about the importance of jury service and encourage the continuation of the program to support other jurors. Ninety-five percent of participants completed a voluntary survey.
  • Program participants have a household income of just under $40,000, on average. The area median income in San Francisco for a single household is $97,000.

“In our country’s history, laws barred certain communities from serving on juries. Be The Jury is groundbreaking because even when those discriminatory laws changed, low-income jurors—many being Black, Asian, Latino—struggled to be able to serve because they couldn’t give up their wages,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. “Be The Jury is the kind of smart, innovative change that will create a more equitable and fair criminal justice system.”

In March 2022, The Financial Justice Project, in partnership with the San Francisco Superior Court, Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, and Bar Association, launched “Be The Jury.” This first-of-its-kind pilot program in San Francisco increases the daily juror stipend from $15 per day to $100 per day for low- to moderate-income San Franciscans who are summoned to serve on criminal juries but cannot serve because they would face a financial hardship.

“No one should be priced out of jury service. These results make it clear that the Be The Jury program allows residents to serve on a jury without concern about lost wages or ability to pay for child or elder care,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros. “This program brings us an important step closer to a more accessible, diverse, and just legal system.”

Jury duty is perhaps the most meaningful opportunity for true civic engagement that our system provides. However, due to financial constraints, many prospective jurors, often those from the neighborhoods most impacted by the criminal legal system, are deprived of this opportunity for engagement due to economic hardship. In San Francisco, a survey found that 35 percent of jurors report that jury service imposed a financial hardship.

“Be The Jury is doing exactly what we predicted and hoped it would do, which is empower community members from diverse backgrounds to participate in jury service,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “This pilot program has shown that with increased compensation, we can engage many more people who otherwise could not afford to take the time to serve on a jury to carry out this crucial civic right and duty.”

“The preliminary findings of the Be The Jury pilot clearly demonstrate that residents want to be active participants in the administration of justice. Our constitutional right to trial by jury hinges on the ability to have juries convened voluntarily that reflect our community’s diversity and values,” said San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “We must do all that we can to empower residents to always answer the call to service and do their part. Eliminating financial barriers to service is a commonsense solution that will improve our criminal justice system.”

The Be The Jury Pilot Program compensates jurors with low-to-moderate incomes with $100 per day for jury service in criminal trials. Jurors are eligible if their household income is less than 80% of the Area Median Income ($74,600 for a single person; $106,550 for a household of four) and if they meet one of the following criteria: (1) their employer does not compensate for jury service; (2) their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration of jury service; (3) they are self-employed; or (4) they are unemployed. This program was authorized by Assembly Bill 1452 (2021). Here is a link to the two-minute video potential jurors are shown about the Be The Jury program in the San Francisco Court’s jury assembly room. 

“The program is off to a promising start, showing increased diversity among jurors. When juries are more reflective of the communities they serve, they spend more time in deliberations and are less likely to presume guilt, which helps defendants get a fair trial. Considering what we see so far, increased jury pay may be worth considering in more jurisdictions,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), author of AB 1452.

“In just six months, San Francisco’s Be The Jury Program has proven that fair compensation for jurors creates a more diverse jury pool,” said Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), co-author of AB 1452. “We need to permanently support a pay increase for disadvantaged jurors, so that San Franciscans from all walks of life are properly represented on juries, not just those who can afford it.”

“Be The Jury is an innovative way to enable all people, regardless of their economic status, to serve on a jury and have their voice heard in the justice system,” said Yolanda Jackson, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Bar Association of San Francisco. “BASF is proud to have supported this effort and hopes that this pilot will serve as a model for criminal and civil juries throughout California.”

Leading researchers and practitioners state that the Be The Jury program is eliminating barriers for low-income people to serve on juries.

"We must eradicate the causes of unrepresentative juries at each stage of jury composition–from the source lists that disproportionately exclude people of color to the processes that facilitate discrimination in the selection of the seated jury. Ever-growing income inequality exacerbates the egregiously inadequate compensation for this vital civic service and contributes significantly to the exclusion of people of color from jury venires. The initial findings of the Be The Jury Pilot Program point us in the direction of a concrete, attainable reform that will move us closer to juries that are representative of our diverse communities," said Elisabeth Semel, Chancellor’s Clinical Professor of Law and Co-Director, Death Penalty Clinic, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

"For obvious reasons, the greatest obstacle to fair, diverse, and representative juries is economic hardship. At California’s statewide rate of $15 per day, jury service is largely limited to those who can afford to serve without pay or who work for the ever-shrinking number of employers who do pay during jury service. For people who need a paycheck to cover food, housing, childcare, utilities, and life’s other expenses, unpaid jury service is an impossible burden to shoulder. The result is juries that do not represent the community. The Be The Jury Pilot Program has proven to work, greatly increasing the number of low- and moderate-income jurors, and most especially people of color,” said Lois Heaney, President, NJP Litigation Consulting (formerly known as The National Jury Project).

The Financial Justice Project plans to conduct a follow up evaluation and seek public support to ensure the long-term viability of the program.