Why is jury duty pay so low? {Jury Duty Compensation Problems and Solutions}

If you have ever been summoned for jury duty, you have probably realized jury pay is menial.

But why is compensation for jurors so low?

Even in the states with the best compensation, jury pay is less than the national minimum wage of $7.25.

And with some cases taking 2 weeks or more, the average person simply can’t afford to be a juror.

So, should juror duty pay be improved? Or is jury compensation low for a reason?

Well, there is a lot to this one, and we spoke to several experts on the issue to get more insight.

Below you will find what you need to know! Let’s jump right on in.

How Jurors are Compensated

Before we can look at why jury pay is so low, we need to check out how jurors are compensated. Jury compensation varies by state, and can also vary from county to county. But there are 3 manners by which jurors can be compensated.

Jurors can be compensated with;

  1. Per diem pay,
  2. Mileage or travel reimbursements,
  3. And, some states require employers to offer paid time off.

1. Diem Compensation

Per diem or per day payments are the most common form of compensation jurors are offered.

Per diem rates range from as little as $0 in states like South Carolina and Illinois. To as much as $50 in states such as Connecticut, South Dakota, and Georgia. With federal courts offering a payment of $50 a day.

This is crazy but, even in states that offer compensation on the higher end, the cost for reimbursing jurors is not a significant cost state-wide.

For example, in 2017, Connecticut spent less than $500,000 to compensate jurors. And that includes a mileage reimbursement of .20 cents a mile. As Eric Chen, Associate Professor at the University of Saint Joseph, tells us:

“The per diem costs are really not that high in the large scheme of things. Data from 2017 reports that the state of Connecticut spent approximately $220,000 on reimbursing out-of-pocket expenses for jurors and almost $239,000 on per diem payments to jurors for service. That’s 4,779 per diem payments for the year.”

Eric Chen, Associate Professor at the University of Saint Joseph

2. Mileage or Travel Reimbursement

Many states offer mileage reimbursement for jurors to help compensate for travel costs.

Travel reimbursements can range from $1 a mile in states like Utah. With other states like Alabama and Alaska paying .54 cents a mile. However, most states offer much less or none at all.

3. Employer Compensation

Finally, employers are required to give jurors time off to attend jury duty. And some states even require your employer to pay you for the days you miss for jury duty.

In states where employers are required to compensate jurors, it’s typically for the first five days. Then the per diem payments from the state kick in. But…

“Before you get too excited about the possibility of getting a double dip here, some employers require that you sign over the per diem if you’re already getting paid from your employer while on jury duty.” 

Eric Chen, Associate Professor at the University of Saint Joseph

Federal Jury Compensation

Compensation for federal jurors is the same across the country, no matter what state they are in.

Federal jurors are compensated $50 a day for the first 45 days and $60 for each day after that. Additionally, they are reimbursed for travel expenses too. Further, federal employees are simply paid their salary in place of compensation.

A Duty, Not a Job

One of the concepts that comes up, again and again, is that jury duty is a duty, not a job.

“The pay should be higher to reflect the increasing costs of parking and meals, but it’s called jury “duty” and not jury “job” for a reason.”

Justin J. Effres, Effres & Associates

It’s true; jury duty is an essential service. Juries are the final arbitrators of someone’s guilt or innocence of a crime. And impartial juries are perhaps the last line of defense when it comes to defending our rights too.

In fact, jury nullification allows the People to essentially nullify an unjust law, even when legislators or judges fail to do so.

“Simply put, jury duty is not a job. Because it is not a job, the traditional ways of looking at job-related compensation can be problematic.”

Eric Chen, Associate Professor at the University of Saint Joseph

Making Jurors Whole Isn’t Feasable

Besides the fact that jury duty is a duty, not a job. Due to the economic disparities between each juror, it is simply isn’t feasible to make jurors whole. In most circumstances, unless an employer foots the bill, jurors will take a cut in pay by performing jury duty.

Here’s the deal, for most jurors, this is simply an inconvenience, but for others, performing jury duty at the current compensation rates is an impossibility—especially parents who also need to pay for childcare.

As associate professor Eric Chen puts it:

“NY Yankees ace pitcher Gerrit Cole makes approximately $1 million every time he pitches. Making him whole because he misses a start or two might very well bankrupt some jurisdictions. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who cannot make ends meet on the $5 per diem offered by New Jersey. ”

Eric Chen, Associate Professor at the University of Saint Joseph

But that brings up a more significant issue. Poor jurors can not afford to attend jury duty and are exempted from service. The jury may unintentionally discriminate against lower-income defendants.

Let’s take a look at the issues that may create.

Do low jury compensation rates cause discrimination?

It’s a popular theory among criminal defense attorneys that jury pay is discriminatory. And this can result in some defendants not getting an impartial jury.

“Most criminal defense attorneys, like myself, believe jury pay is discriminatory as people of means and retired citizens are more likely to report for jury service and serve than are the poor and working poor who simply cannot take off work or find and pay for childcare.”

Joe Gutheinz, Gutheinz Law Firm, LLP

Look, Attorney Guttheinz tells us firsthand how he has witnessed this discrimination in Texas.

“I have had jury trials in communities which are predominately black and Hispanic where the jury panels are almost exclusively white. Defendants, it is said, are entitled to juries of their peers, well, very few of my minority and blue-collar clients are members of country clubs or retirement communities, which describes too many members of the jurors I see.”

Joe Gutheinz, Gutheinz Law Firm, LLP

And while one can debate whether or not this makes a difference in the outcomes. It can not be argued that it can prevent some defendants from having access to a jury of their peers.

From the Perspective of a Recent Prospective Juror

Maddie Johnson, a recent prospective juror, shares her recent experience in Los Angeles, California, starting January 3rd, 2022. Additionally, Johnson’s foundation, the Freebird Movement, works to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals. So she has a unique perspective on juries beyond her recent experiences.

And she has a similar perspective on the issue, and she weighs in on how jury pay may be discriminatory here:

“It prevents low-income groups from being able to serve on a jury without creating additional financial stress for them and their families.”

“People should not have to choose between their civic duty to go in for jury duty and ignoring their summons to keep food on the table.”

-Maddie Johnson, Founder of the Freebird Movement

Johnson says that one of the reoccurring themes among the applicants who apply for help from her foundation is the feeling that the jury did not represent their peers.

As she explains the situation:

“Mainly, people mention disparities in race, age, and social class between chosen jurors and the communities where the alleged crimes took place or that the accused resided in. This certainly plays a significant role in how the trial will play out, as there is a reason people say trials are won or lost during jury selection.”

Jury Duty Compensation is Taxable

As if the low pay in some states wasn’t insulting enough. Jury compensation is seen as taxable.

Eric Chen, Associate Professor at the University of Saint Joseph, explains:

“Compensation is taxable. That means that juror compensation is generally subject to taxation. So yes, if you think that juror compensation is low to begin with, getting taxed on juror compensation could feel a lot like adding insult to injury. Fortunately, in some states, jurors are allowed to deduct mileage and other incidentals.”

Solutions to Improve the Jury System

So, what are some possible solutions to improve the current system by which we compensate jurors?

Let’s look at a few ideas!

1. Employers Could Help The Problem

Aside from convincing state legislators to adopt new rules for compensating jurors are compensated, employers can step in to solve the issue.

While it is certainly not feasible for all employers, companies can help solve the issue of low jury pay by providing their employees paid leave for jury service. And while it won’t make them whole, employers can collect their employee’s jury pay if they choose to compensate them.

This may not be an ideal solution. However, it is a practical one.

Brought to us by Justin J. Effres of Effres & Associates:

” As a trial lawyer, I see jurors whose employers pay for unlimited jury duty and jurors whose employers who pay for no jury duty. I would like to see more employers pay for unlimited jury duty because having a functioning justice system is important for all of us, including corporations that hire employees.”

2. Send Out Surveys Prior to Jury Selection

A second potential solution to improve jurors’ pay is to cut costs when possible. Maddie Johnson from Freedom Movement suggests mailing out surveys to prospective jurors in advance. That way, you can thin out the jury pool before asking them to come to the courthouse.

Johnson explains this potential solution in the context of her recent experience:

“A significant way that Jury Duty and Jury Selection could be improved, is by sending out a survey prior to jury selection with a list of disqualifying questions. There were quite a few people who were immediately excused because of connections to the case, past experiences with similar lawsuits, or because of their employment history. These are very simple questions that could have been asked ahead of time that would have redirected those prospective jurors to a different case…”

-Maddie Johnson, Founder of the Freebird Movement

This solution simply makes sense. Sending out surveys would cut the number of days a district would need to compensate jurors.

Further, the money saved could then be reallocated to pay jurors more for each day of service. As well as reduce the time jurors are asked to take off of work, reducing their personal burden as well.

3. Improve Juror Privacy

An entirely different issue is how jurors can meet hardship exemptions.

According to Johnson, the practice in LA is to ask the pool of potential jurors to come forth if they want to apply for one of the qualified juror excuses. One of the qualifying reasons for not attending jury service was “extreme financial stress,” which one of the jurors stood for. This individual had to stand up in front of the group to assert their “financial hardship” exemption.

According to Johnson’s account:

“Ultimately, only one person was excused for this reason. However, I found it incredibly uncomfortable and shameful that they asked such personal questions to her and to others in such a large group of strangers. I do not believe the intention was to embarrass anyone, but deeply personal questions such as less than ideal financial situations, prior lawsuits, and even family tragedies could have been asked about in a more private manner.”

The Current State of Jury Compensation

At the end of the day, the current state of jury compensation isn’t very current. As a result, jury compensation could be improved across the board. And failing to do so may create circumstances where defendants do not have access to a fair and impartial jury of their peers.

Which creates a problem that needs to be addressed.

While some employers may be able to step in and fill the gap for their employees, ultimately, it is going to be the state legislature’s need to address the issue. Yes, some states offer realistic compensation, but others need to be significantly improved.

While the Ghislaine Maxwell Trial initially piqued my interest in how jurors are compensated.

What caused me to sit down and finally write this article was a TikTok by Maddie Johnson, where she discussed the state of jury compensation in LA.

So I’ll let her have the last word:

“Jury Duty is our civic duty and it is a privilege to be able to sit on a jury. However, people would be much more willing and able to sit through a trial and deliberate to come to an accurate and fair conclusion, if they were being fairly compensated for their time.”

-Maddie Johnson, Founder of the Freebird Movement

Surprisingly this is the second article inspired by TikTok. See also The Story of Jimmy Watson.