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    The Need to Diversify Juries

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting–

    It is our civic duty to serve on a jury. But many Americans are unable to participate in our democracy because they cannot afford to take unpaid time off from work. A missed paycheck would cause economic hardship. This smaller pool of potential jurors often results in juries that are wealthier and less diverse—not at all reflective of the communities they serve.

    In order for justice to be delivered fairly, it is essential our juries are inclusive of all races, genders, and income levels. That’s what a “jury of peers” means: a jury of equals. But we often don’t achieve it.

    In San Francisco, one of the problems is compensation, which is currently only $15 per day of service. It’s no wonder juries aren’t more diverse. That rate is less than the city’s hourly minimum wage, and it barely covers transportation or parking and lunch.

    Given these circumstances, I have introduced AB 1452, a bill authorizing the San Francisco Superior Court to implement the Be The Jury Pilot Program, which would increase the pay of low- to moderate-income jurors to $100 a day. The goal is to see if it will improve jury demographics, as well as result in fairer verdicts.

    Studies have shown diverse juries spend more time in deliberations and are less likely to presume guilt. This could help improve the legitimacy of the criminal justice system.

    Jurors would be eligible for this program if their household income is less than 80% of the Area Median Income, which is $71,700 for a single person or $102,500 for a household of four. They must also meet one of the following criteria:

    • their employer does not compensate for jury service;
    • their employer does not compensate for the estimated duration of their service;
    • they are self-employed;
    • or they are unemployed.

    Be The Jury would be paid for by philanthropic funds raised by the San Francisco Financial Justice Project. They already have the money to proceed; all they need to start the implementation of higher pay is the passage of AB 1452, which I will strive to do by the September 10th legislative deadline. The Governor then has a month to sign it into law. Once the Be The Jury project is completed, stakeholders will evaluate whether the program was effective in reducing racial and economic disparities in juries and leading to more equitable outcomes.

    I have spent my time in the Assembly working to improve the criminal justice system. I successfully authored a bill allowing for the resentencing of criminal cases, if the local district attorney considers the original punishment was too harsh. I have also passed legislation, giving judges the discretion to order misdemeanor diversion programs in lieu of prosecution. Furthermore, criminal records will be automatically expunged for lower-level offenses, as a result of my efforts, to make finding a job and housing easier. AB 1452 is another opportunity for California to enact more reforms.

    The criminal justice system cannot operate fairly if juries do not reflect the communities they serve. All San Franciscans, regardless of their race or economic status, deserve an opportunity to serve on a jury. Let’s give everyone a chance to participate in the justice system without harming their finances by compensating them fairly for their work.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City.

    Published on August 26, 2021