I was reading the News and Observer this morning over breakfast and saw this story about jury selection in a Wake County murder case. The thrust of the story will not surprise anyone who has ever tried a lengthy case:
At a time when many families are feeling pinched by the recession, prosecutors and defense lawyers have had difficulty finding jurors for the four to six weeks [the trial is expected to last]. . . . [T]he judge has heard many claims of financial hardship from men and women who fear being out of the office and off the job for at least a month.
The story briefly mentions the compensation that is provided to jurors, but it made me realize how little I know about juror compensation. So I researched it a bit. Here’s what I found.
Basic Rule. Under G.S. 7A-312, jurors “shall receive [$12] for the first day of service and [$20] per day afterwards, except that if any person serves as a juror for more than five days in any 24‑month period, the juror shall receive [$40] per day for each day of service in excess of five days.” The statute contains special provisions for sequestered jurors, and a different rate of compensation for grand jurors.
Comparison with Other Jurisdictions. This web page purports to list the juror compensation schemes in place in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and the broader federal court system, all current as of January 1, 2011. It’s accurate as to North Carolina, and assuming that it’s accurate about other jurisdictions, we appear to be in the fat part of the bell curve. South Carolina provides between $2 and $12 per day, while Arizona’s lengthy trial fund may pay as much as $300 per day in certain circumstances.
Employers’ Obligations. Under G.S. 9-32, “[n]o employer may discharge or demote any employee because the employee has been called for jury duty, or is serving as a grand juror or petit juror.” As far as I can tell, employers are not required to pay their employees during jury service, though some states do mandate that, and of course, some employers do so as a matter of policy.
Tax Status. According to this IRS FAQ, “[j]ury fees received as compensation for services are includible in gross income,” though meals, lodging, and mileage reimbursement, if provided — which they normally are not, in North Carolina — are not taxable. The FAQ also states that “[s]ome employers pay employees their regular wages on days that the employees perform jury duty. In exchange for these wages, the employer may require the employees to pay to the employer the jury fees that the employees receive as compensation for jury service. If an employee must pay these jury fees to his or her employer, the employee may claim an above-the-line deduction on Form 1040 for the amount of the fees paid to the employer.”
I’ve heard plenty of lawyers on both sides argue that our longest, most complicated, and often most serious trials are most likely to be decided by juries composed predominantly of the retired and the unemployed. It would be an interesting proposition to test empirically, but short of that, I’d be interested in your anecdotal opinions.