The Financial Challenge of Jury Duty

jury duty

This week I got sucked into jury duty. The last time I did it I was very young and didn’t really care about giving up a whole day to sit in a courtroom for just a few dollars. Heck, at that age they could have given me anything and I would have thought it a windfall. I actually enjoyed that first time. I thought it was great fun to sit in a courtroom and listen to the lawyers and watch the people. At the time I couldn’t see why so many people go to great lengths to get out of jury duty. Now that I’m older, however, I see the problem.

Jury service, while a responsibility that goes along with citizenship in this country, simply does not pay enough to make it tolerable for most people. Consider this an open letter to our state governments to increase the pay for jury duty.

Jury duty, in and of itself, is not a hardship. It’s not difficult to go sit in a courtroom for a couple of days, hear a case and render a verdict. It’s even pretty interesting to watch our court system in action. Unless you really adore your job, a day of jury duty is probably a welcome respite from the cube farm. The problem comes in when you need to be at your job in order to make money and jury duty takes you away from that.

The good news is that most states have laws that prohibit an employer from firing you because you are on jury duty. So at least you’re guaranteed to have a job to come back to. However, the bad news is that there are no laws that require an employer to pay you for the time you’re serving. For some salaried employees this is less of a problem as some companies will just pay their salaried employees for the days they serve. Or you can opt to take vacation or sick leave and still get paid for the time you serve. Inconvenient and annoying? Yes. But at least you can still make money. But most hourly jobs will only pay for hours worked. Jury duty means you aren’t working so you aren’t getting paid. The self employed are in the same boat. If you’re not working, you’re not bringing money in.

This wouldn’t be a problem if jury service paid a reasonable wage. However, it simply doesn’t. In my state, the going rate is $10 per day for an eight hour day. In many states it isn’t much better. The highest pay I found is in Arkansas, which pays $50 per day. Some fortunate few states also pay for mileage, but not mine. Where I live, $10 per day barely pays for my gas to get to the courthouse, as the courthouse is on the other side of the county. I don’t know when jury pay was last considered here, but clearly it hasn’t taken the increase in gas prices into account.

At $10 per day, is it any wonder that so many people are kicking and screaming and lying to get out of jury service? People that need to be at work to make money can’t afford to be on jury duty. Even if you’re lucky enough to live in Arkansas and get $50 per day, an eight hour day of service is netting you a whopping $6.25 per hour. Any job pays more than this. My teenage baby sitting gigs paid better than this. Even if you’re making minimum wage you’re raking it in compared to serving on a jury. Being self employed, all I could think the whole time I was sitting there was how much money I was losing by not being at my desk.

While I was waiting to be called, I saw people begging and almost crying to be released from service. Some had true hardships that had nothing to do with money (caring for a special needs child, for example) and some simply wanted to avoid the inconvenience and get back to their regularly scheduled daily lives, but most wanted out because they literally couldn’t afford to be there. While I was upset about the amount of money I was losing that day, only a very lengthy trial would be a true hardship for me because I can afford to miss one or two days. I have savings and, if need be, I can stay up late at night to make up the work I’m missing. Most don’t have that option. Those that couldn’t get out spent the day angry and surly.

Is this the way we really want our court system to function? Do we want our juries composed of people who are angry and resentful at having to serve? Do we want jury boxes full of people who can’t give the case their full attention because they’re wondering how they’re going to pay their bills now that they’re missing work? If you were on trial for something, would you be comforted by the fact that those twelve jurors in the box are looking at you as the reason they can’t be at work, making the money the need to feed their families? Would you want your case decided by people who are only there because they’ll be thrown in jail if they leave? By people who are exhausted because, after leaving the courthouse, they worked the late shift so they could be paid? I don’t think so. I’d much rather have a jury of engaged people who want to be there and who are rested and refreshed.

Jury duty is a huge responsibility and one we should all take seriously. The problem is that it doesn’t seem that the state values our contribution very much. For something that is such a large responsibility, literally life and death in some cases, you would think that the compensation would be commensurate. If you’re deciding someone’s fate, isn’t that worth at least the same amount as flipping a burger at McDonald’s? At the very least, just duty should pay minimum wage and (ideally) mileage. I would argue that it’s worth much more than that, though. However, minimum wage is at least a starting point and far better than what’s offered today.

Perhaps if jury duty paid a decent wage, people would be excited to serve. They would see it as the honor and responsibility it was intended to be, rather than an inconvenience that must be suffered. They would be engaged in the case rather than worrying about making ends meet. There might be less lying to get out of jury duty, and less abuse of court employees. Defendants could feel confident that their fate was in the hands of people who were really listening, rather than those who felt trapped.

I understand that states must work within limited budgets, but it seems to me that paying adequately for a responsibility of this magnitude justifies cutting down wasteful government spending in order to free up more money for the jury pool. (For example, did the DOT people who came to repair our road last week really have to leave their truck idling for an hour and a half while they did the work? The gas they wasted was ridiculous.) Jury duty is a responsibility and a jury that is engaged, awake and capable of rendering an informed verdict is our right as citizens. The current jury pay scale honors neither of these precepts.

Image courtesy of beavela

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18 Responses to The Financial Challenge of Jury Duty

  1. shraz says:

    Well in CA I found that:
    In accordance with California Civil Procedures, Section 215, jurors are paid $15.00 a day commencing on the second day of service, plus mileage compensation of .034 cents per mile, one way.

  2. GL says:

    I’ll just play the devil’s advocate here, but if you over-compensate the jurors, wouldn’t you have the exact opposite? I.e., people would only go there for the money and wouldn’t care about the case. Kind of like the proposed reform in Arizona a couple of years ago – they wanted to encourage people to vote by raffling off a $1,000,000 prize. If you vote, you’re entered. It was an interesting proposal, but thankfully, it got killed. :)

    That said, I agree with your basic point. But then again, I’ve never done the jury duty before, so I want to see what all the noise is about. 😀

  3. Karen says:

    I also think that too many jurors are excluded from the process. I’ve been called for jury duty a few times in my life, and most of the time, it hasn’t been a big problem, financially. But every time, I’ve been excluded from the jury – I was never given a reason but I never had any direct conflict with the case or particular feelings about the crime involved. Maybe because I’m a scientist? I’d be happy to serve on a jury, but if being a chemist always excludes you, just leave me off the list, please?

    I also wonder if there’s some way to choose a time to serve. You’d have to be careful about conflicts, but for example, I was unemployed for a couple of months last year, and that would have been a perfect time for me to serve on jury duty. Self employed people might have certain times of the year when it would be less onerous, etc.

  4. Saving Freak says:

    Lawyers do not want people that can think for themselves. They want individuals that can be molded into their line of thinking. So if you want to not be picked just make sure you look and act smarter than all the people around you.

  5. Miranda says:

    Great points about jury duty. I’m really torn on this one. On the one hand, I wonder why we should be compensated for what should be our civic duty. On the other hand, lost wages are a very real issue. $75 – $100 a day plus mileage might be a good compromise. It may not seem like a lot, but I think it is reasonable, even though I bring substantially more than that each day.

    Also, one could take into account how long the trial lasts. Perhaps after a week the per diem goes up by $25. And then it goes up $5-$10 a day each week after that.

  6. xinecho says:

    I think I got the point the author express and know something about jury duty. But what jury duty is ? We don’t have this system in China and I’m interested in it. Could someone explain it for me?

  7. steve says:

    They should have professional juries in my opinion.

  8. I wonder what would happen if I was called up? I couldn’t possibly get someone else to run my business for me. I would like the experience of doing it though.

  9. Jeff says:

    “They should have professional juries in my opinion.”

    you’re kidding right?

    You won’t think that when you need a fair jury on your side.

  10. Pingback: Carnival of Personal Finance #150

  11. KATHY says:


  12. Bjahnsen says:

    Tort Reform!

    Punitive damages should be put into a special fund to pay jurors instead of being given to plaintiffs. Pay jurors based on their annual incomes with a cap of say $500 per day.

    You’ll not only decrease frivolous lawsuits from money-grubbing lawyers but you’ll increase the likelihood of getting a good intelligent jury full of a wide variety of citizens.

  13. Sandra says:

    I’m in AR. I’m glad to hear we get 50$ LOL…but it still won’t do me a bit of good. I have three young children. 20$ a day per child= 60$. It is 35$ if you aren’t seated but only have to watch. Which sucks even more. It will not cover my daycare costs. What sucks even more on top of our financial hurt is that I exclusively breastfeed my infant. I don’t know how she will do with a bottle. Will she take one? I don’t know. Will she scream and cry because mommy isn’t there to hold her, feed her, play with her. It won’t be the money that bothers me while I’m sitting in the jury box. It will be my worrying about whether or not my baby is crying for her mommy. Can’t say I will give my full attention to court when I have the heart ache of knowing someone else is caring for my little one’s and won’t know how to best take care of my child.

  14. Sandra says:

    oh and I agree with Karen about being able to choose when you wish to serve jury duty. If I could choose I would much prefer school times and after my infant is at least one year old.

  15. bryan says:

    here in washing ton it’s 40 a day and after the 10th day it’s 50, but i would have to drive 133 miles (one way) at the shortest distance and pay for hotels and food even though i don’t have the money in the first place.

  16. Kenn says:

    I just wanna say, before I finish reading this. As a resident of Arkansas, I’m looking to see if/what any counties pay for jury duty, but do want to make a note as well. At the time this article was written, I believe minimum wage was just starting to increase from 5.15/hr to 6.25 and eventually now to 7.25/hr to if I recall, “catch up to other states”. If pay was around 50/day during 2008 or even before, most residents would consider themselves lucky to make that.

  17. Michelle says:

    I live in Arkansas. My situation is that my husband who makes around $129 a day and is on call to repair ATMs for 2 consecutive weeks out of every 4 weeks got the papers to return about jury duty got those papers 3 times in the past year. so we would be LOSING approximately $79 per day and $120 on the paycheck that covers the 2 weeks that he is on call to repair ATMs if he actually went to jury duty. Each time, he sent it back stating that he is an armored car guard and the fact that he is on call for ATM repair for 2 consecutive weeks out of every 4 weeks and ended up being exempted each time, not sure whether it was the armored car guard bit or the ATM bit that did it. The worst thing of this is that I do not work due to physical disabilities (tried working in August 2010 and had to quit due to my physical disabilities after less than a week, tried again in December 2010 and ended up in the hospital for 3 days and having to quit because the doctors could not figure out what caused me to pass out at work but did not want me to try again for fear of a longer hospital stay or worse and now Ticket to Work has also told me to quit trying to work for the same reason!) so a call up to jury duty for me would NET us $50 a day and would not cost us extra because we have no children, just 5 cats and 1 fish that basically only require care twice a day each. With the loss of income if my husband actually went to jury duty, we would not be able to pay our bills or pay for gas for him to get to work once his jury duty ended or pay for food, etc, however, if they were to call me instead, I would gladly attend jury duty (would provide needed mental stimulation and would be within my physical limitations since I would not be asked to move things around or stand for long periods or walk for long periods) and would not be worrying about paying my bills etc because the money for MY jury duty time would be gravy (over and above the money that I need to pay for bills, food, automobile gas, etc). So, it makes no sense that my husband got jury duty papers that many times in such a short period of time when NO ONE ELSE I know even got those papers EVEN ONCE.

  18. daniel says:

    Shouldn’t jury duty be paid at federal minimum wage standards. Is there a federal law that exempts paying jurors minimum wage for there work. Even if the state sets jury pay if it’s in conflict with federal law then doesn’t federal law prevail ?

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