New York’s sub-minimum wage $40 daily stipend makes jury service unaffordable for low-wage and self-employed workers without employer-paid time off
Acting DA Joyce A. Smith: “Fairness demands that our juries reflect the diversity of our communities, but low juror pay means some simply cannot afford to do their civic duty. By raising juror pay to the minimum wage we ensure everyone can serve when called.”
Mineola, N.Y. — Acting Nassau County District Attorney Joyce A. Smith today called upon state and federal lawmakers to increase juror compensation to $15 per hour to promote racial and economic diversity and to improve the fairness of criminal and civil trials. Under current law, eligible New York jurors receive a fee of $40 per day of service[i] and federal jurors receive $50 per day, but low jury pay forces many summoned for service to decide between performing their civic duty and losing essential income.
“Inclusive and representative juries have an essential role in our system and no eligible citizen should be precluded from serving because they can’t afford to miss work,” said Acting Nassau County District Attorney Joyce A. Smith. “Jury service can be difficult and emotionally taxing, and it’s time for our government to pay those who serve at least the minimum wage we ask employers to pay.”
To reduce the burden of an increased juror fee on taxpayers, Smith also called on the State Legislature to require large employers to pay employees’ full wage for the duration of jury service.
Studies show that a diversity of experiences on juries leads to more considered decisions.[ii] Researchers found that diverse juries were less likely to presume guilt than homogenous juries, that they were more thorough in their evaluation of evidence, and that they deliberated longer. In addition, researchers found that diverse juries discussed more facts, were more open to discussing the role of race, and made fewer factual errors than homogenous juries.[iii]
New York tracks the demographics of jurors who appear for service, [iv] but between 7% and 25% of Long Island and New York City jurors decline to complete juror information cards, making comparisons of the demographics of those who serve and the broader population less useful despite the Unified Court System’s efforts. Available data show that Black- and Hispanic-identifying jurors are disproportionately underrepresented on jury pools compared to census data. The court system does not report data regarding income levels of jurors who appear, or the demographic information of those summoned for jury duty who do not appear.
New York’s jury stipend of $40/day equates to an hourly rate of just $5 per hour for an eight hour workday, and the equivalent of an annual salary of $10,400, a fraction of Nassau County’s per capita income of $51,422,[v] and less than half of the $27,300, which qualifies as “extremely low income” under U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines. The stipend is even below the federal poverty line for an individual, which does not factor Nassau’s high cost of living.[vi]
N. Scott Banks, Esq., Attorney In Chief of the Nassau County Legal Aid Society said, “The Legal Aid Society of Nassau County joins with District Attorney Joyce Smith in supporting increased pay for jury service. The right to a jury of one’s peers is at the core of our justice system. However, inadequate compensation imposes significant financial hardship for many who would serve on petit or grand juries, negatively impacting the diversity of juries here in Nassau County and elsewhere throughout New York State, as income inequality is strongly correlated with race and ethnicity. Economic hardship should never deter people from serving on juries. The Legal Aid Society agrees with the District Attorney’s Office that higher compensation for jury service will help ensure that jury pools are more reflective of the communities they are serving, and help the justice system achieve more diverse, inclusive and fair juries.”
Bishop Lionel Harvey, Pastor of The First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury said, "In order to maintain the integrity of the jury process, it is imperative that the level of compensation be commensurate with the important task the jurors are asked to perform. Diversity is important to ensure the process is fair and representative of All the people. Addressing the financial burden that would exclude prospective jurors from fulfilling their civic duty is long overdue and will prove to provide fairness and perspective."
Stephen Drummond, Esq., of Drummond & Squillace, PLLC and Hofstra Law School said, “An increase in jurors’ compensation undoubtedly will serve the public’s interest as it will help ease the hardship, personal sacrifices that jurors experience and it will encourage a more inclusive and diverse panel of potential jurors. It is also the right step in seeking to fairly compensate jurors for the invaluable service they provide to this nation’s system of justice.”
Smith will submit draft legislation to raise New York’s juror pay to $120 per day to lawmakers and Governor Hochul today.
Sources: [i] New York juror pay was last raised in 1998. Federal juror pay is $50 per day, and up to $60 per day when serving on a trial lasting more 10 days. Under New York and State law, the employer of a juror who employees more than 10 people must pay $40 per day for the first three days of jury service, but small employers are not required to pay, and no employer is compelled to pay an employee’s regular wage.
[ii] Sommers, S. R. (2006). On racial diversity and group decision making: Identifying multiple effects of racial composition on jury deliberations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90(4), 597. available at https://stanford.app.box.com/s/4srbkxjhfkxqhm2g6ln5pv2q6wxwhcf0; Bergold, Amanda N. (2017), Diversity’s Impact on the Quality of Deliberations, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, available at https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2886&context=gc_etds Mark D. Bradbury and Marian R. Williams(2012) Diversity and Citizen Participation: The Effect of Race on Juror Decision Making. Administration & Society (vol. 45, # 5) (ISSN 0095-3997);Racial Diversity Improves Group Decision Making In Unexpected Ways, According To Tufts University Research. ScienceDaily, available at www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060410162259.htm
[iv] See New York State Unified Court System 10th Annual Report Pursuant to Section 528 of the Judiciary Law (2020) available at https://www.nycourts.gov/legacypdfs/publications/pdfs/2020-Section528-Annual-Report.pdf
[v] Per capita income data available at https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/nassaucountynewyork/LND110210
[vi] “Very Low Income” is defined as 30% of less of area median income (AMI), or the federal poverty line, whichever is greater. Details for the 2021 income levels are available at https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/il/il2020/2020summary.odn?year=2020&states=36.0&data=2020&inputname=METRO35620MM5380*3605999999%2BNassau+County&stname=New+York&statefp=36&selection_type=county. The Federal Poverty Line for individuals and families is detailed at https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-fpl/