Unique Program to Increase Juror Pay Proves Impactful in Expanding Racial and Economic Diversity in San Francisco Jury Pools, according to One-Year Evaluation

Over 1,000 San Franciscans have participated in the Be The Jury program, which pays low- to moderate-income jurors $100 per day. Assembly Bill 881 would expand the program to other California counties.

Posted August 15, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Today, the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, housed in the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector, released the results of a one-year evaluation of the Be The Jury program, which increases juror pay from $15 to $100 a day for low- to moderate-income jurors. The one-year evaluation shows that the program has a sustained impact on increasing economic and racial diversity in jury pools in San Francisco. To date, over 1,000 San Franciscans have participated in this program.

The first-of-its-kind Be The Jury Pilot Program began in March of 2022 to test 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. 

The program inspired the introduction of Assembly Bill 881 (D–Ting): Be The Jury California, which would similarly increase juror compensation in additional California counties. AB 881 is moving through the Legislature and is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill has no opposition on record and has bipartisan support. AB 881 was featured in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, and more. 

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 reported that jury service imposed a financial hardship.

The one-year evaluation of Be The Jury highlights these promising results:

  • The vast majority of Be The Jury participants could not have served without the $100 per day stipend.Eighty-four percent of participants said they were able to serve as a result of the $100 compensation. In particular, 91 percent of Black participants said the stipend made it possible for them to serve.
  • Program participants reflect the racial demographics of the broader San Francisco population. Sixty percent of participants self-identified as people of color.
  • Be The Jury participants made up a meaningful number of jurors serving on criminal trials.  Nine percent of jurors serving on criminal trials in San Francisco were Be The Jury participants. 
  • Be The Jury participants had low incomes, demonstrating that the program successfully removed financial hardship barriers to serving. The median household income of participants was $38,000. The area median household income in San Francisco is $121,826.
  • Feedback from program participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Interviews with participants found that jurors had a positive shift in attitude towards jury service and the judicial system. 95 percent of participants completed a voluntary survey.

“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.”

“No one should have to decide between making ends meet or fulfilling their civic duty,” said San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros. “The Be The Jury program results make it clear that paying people to serve on juries is a necessary step towards upholding our constitutional right to a trial by peers.”

“Be The Jury is delivering on the promise of fair jury trials by empowering community members from diverse backgrounds to participate in jury service,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “Our pilot program has shown that with increased compensation, we can make it possible for many more people to serve on a jury to carry out this crucial civic right and duty.”

"The Be The Jury pilot exemplifies the value of removing financial hardship barriers and allowing individuals to administer justice for the diverse communities they represent," said San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. "The achievements of the pilot program clearly demonstrate that we improve the socio-economic and racial diversity of jurors, resulting in greater equity within our criminal justice system, when we eliminate income as a deciding factor."

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.” 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. 

“I’m thrilled to see that higher jury pay for lower-income Californians does, in fact, diversify juries. These findings now make the case for my latest bill, AB 881, which seeks to expand the Be The Jury pilot program to four other counties. When juries are more reflective of the communities they serve, they spend more time in deliberations and are less likely to presume guilt. Multiple perspectives weighing in helps defendants get a fair trial,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), author of AB 1452 and AB 881.

“Congratulations to the Be The Jury Pilot Program on its one-year milestone. A lot has been learned in a year: money is a barrier to diverse and low-income residents and our San Francisco jury pools became more diverse and mirrored the ethnicity and gender demographics in San Francisco once financial hurdles were removed for potential jury participants," said Yolanda Jackson, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Bar Association of San Francisco. "Potential jurors should not have to decide between serving their civic duty and having enough money to take care of their families. I am thrilled at the possibility of this program going statewide."