Time.com recently published, “How Being A Juror Is Worse Than Working at McDonald’s.” The article focused on current attempts to seat impartial jurors for both the Tsarnaev (“Boston bombing”) trial, and the Holmes (“Aurora theatre shooting”) trial. The author boldly stated:
Jurors who are selected for these high-profile trials will devote nearly half of the year to deciding the fate of the defendants, all while being paid near-poverty wages.
If one glances at the juror pay throughout the states, it’s really quite appalling. Annual rates are published each January. Here’s a sampling:
- Missouri jurors earn $6/day and 7¢/mile. Does that even buy a Subway, chips and drink?
- Alabama jurors earn a mere $10/day, plus 5¢/mile.
- Massachusetts jurors earn $50/day after the third day and receive no mileage. Because Massachusetts requires employers to fund the first three days of jury service, if you’re unemployed or self-employed? You earn a big fat goose egg for the first three days. Yay.
- Colorado jurors earn $50/day after the third day, and much like Massachusetts, it seems you’re outta luck if you are unemployed or self-employed.
- Oklahoma and Arizona jurors are perhaps the luckiest of the bunch. They earn a day rate plus mileage, but their pay goes up significantly after a certain amount of time. Oklahomans can earn up to $200/day after Day 10, and Arizonans can earn up to $300/day after Day 4 thanks to each state’s “Lengthy Trial Fund.” Now we’re talking.
In many – dare I say most? – states, jurors are paid less than minimum wage for their service. And when you factor in the travel time to and from the courthouse, transportation expenses, lunch expenses, parking expenses, and physically being in the courtroom for about 8 hours a day… well, is it any wonder that juror show rates are less than stellar throughout the country, and seating jurors in lengthy trials can be extremely difficult?
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, yet we ask jurors to willingly serve and stay actively engaged for what realistically averages to be a ten-hour day. For Missouri jurors, their $6/day rate breaks down to 60¢/hour for their time and service. Sixty cents!!!!! Even jurors lucky enough to earn between $30-50/day are effectively earning $3-$5/hour. Still significantly lower than the federally mandated minimum wage. (Would it be unprofessional to say YIKES right about now??)
In a recent New York Times blog titled “Just Compensation for Jurors,” Casey B. Mulligan made an interesting assertion:
The court system might alleviate these problems by following the example of the modern military: recruit people for service by paying them far more than minimum wage. Jurors could still be selected randomly, but with a nice paycheck waiting for them, they would not try as hard (or at all) to be excused by the court. … The modern military pays soldiers with both appreciation and money. Jurors should be paid that way, too.
Can’t say I disagree with Mr. Mulligan. I’ve observed short trials, and I’ve attended trials that lasted more than three months. In a minority of these cases, the judge worked out an agreement with the parties whereby each side would not only supplement the juror pay, but would also provide lunch to the panel (of course, jurors were unaware why or how this was done). Goodwill and appreciation go a a long way.
We live in the greatest nation in the world, and our jury system is by far, the best that exists. It’s a well-known fact that employees who feel appreciated, are paid fairly, and feel as though they are making a meaningful contribution tend to have higher job satisfaction and higher retention rates. Why should we expect jurors to feel any differently?
Things to think about as we continue to evaluate ways to improve our jury system, don’t you think? In the meantime, let’s extend heartfelt gratitudes to those who serve on our juries!