Jurors get 'sub-minimum' wage for a full day’s work. Indiana may raise court fees to double that pay
At the end of a recent three week civil trial – which is unusually long and “tiring” – Marion County Judge Heather Welch received feedback from the panel of jurors on the case. Welch shared their comments with senators during testimony on a bill that would about double jury compensation.
One young woman, Welch told lawmakers, was lucky enough to have her employer cover the cost of the first week of trial, but had to use paid time off and unpaid leave for the rest. That juror suggested compensation should increase from the current flat $40 for every week a case goes on.
Another juror told Welch they were a stay-at-home mother and had to pay for child care during the trial. They also suggested increased compensation or child care reimbursement.
The last example Welch shared was from a young man who worked as an electrician.
“He lost a lot of money. He was in a situation where unless he was on the job, he wasn't paid,” Welch said. “He had to reach out to his family to help pay his bills. And his concern was that some people might not have family that could help them. So I think it really justifies this increase.”
On Monday, the Senate almost unanimously passed House Bill 1466, which would double the daily compensation to $80 with an increase to $90 after the sixth day of trial. The bill passed the House earlier this session, but it must head back to that chamber to approve changes made in the Senate before HB 1466 can head to the governor’s desk.
This bill could make Indiana jurors some of the highest-paid in the nation. The National Center for State Courts found the most any state paid jurors directly was $50 per day as of April 2022. Several states have considered increases since then, including West Virginia, where a 2022 bill to also raise the pay to $80 failed to become law.
Prosecutors, public defenders and judges all testified about how the current compensation of $40 prevents courts from getting enough jurors to fully represent communities– or, in recent some cases, even meet basic minimum requirements for a trial to occur.
“I can't remember a single time when I haven't had to excuse at least one person that would experience that kind of financial hardship,” said Johnson County Judge Marla Clark. “And then I also tell them, ‘Hey, you are going to be paid, by the way.’ And then I have to say, ‘it's $40 a day’ and it's cringe every time I say it.”
Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues throughout the legislative session. And follow along with our bill tracker.
With some days of trial lasting seven to 10 hours, current jury pay is equivalent to just over half the state’s $7.25 minimum hourly wage. The compensation has remained unchanged for over two decades.
“Jury service does represent a significant disruption to their everyday lives. They give up time from their families and from their jobs, and many incur additional financial hardships,” Clark said. “And jury pay is just that, it’s pay for a service. And I can't think of another job where your pay isn't at least looked at in 25 years to see whether it's commensurate with what we're asking you to do.”
Workers legally can’t be fired for taking time off work for jury duty, but Daviess County Prosecutor Dan Murrie said during House testimony that sometimes employers don’t “play along.” And employers are not required to provide pay during that time off.
“The idea that this is compensation is almost a step too far for me personally, because 80 bucks [for] a whole day of doing the foundational piece of the justice system, I mean, maybe that's a token of appreciation,” Murrie said. “It's treated as taxable income. So they're not even getting the full $80.”
The state also pays jurors $15 for each day they are impaneled, but not actively in court. HB 1466 would raise those payments to $30.
The bill proposes covering costs by raising fees on defendants who are found guilty from $2 to $6. People who file certain types of lawsuits, specifically a tort or plenary action, would be charged a $75 fee because such cases use a jury. Other types of civil actions, like those in small claims courts, would not be subject to any fee because they typically do not use juries.
“I wish we could find a way to pay for this other than through fees on convicted persons,” said Zach Stock with the Indiana Public Defender Council. “But the benefits of the bill far outweigh that concern.”
In a 2020 10-year strategic plan, the Judicial Conference of Indiana called for an end to the state's fee-based justice system.
“Like many states, Indiana has chosen to rely upon fines, fees and costs in the courts system to help support not only the courts, but a dizzying array of other government functions,” the report said. “Because such fines, fees and costs are disproportionately borne by the poor, they act as a regressive tax on parties least able to pay… We have discovered that when they do not pay, the indigent could find themselves incarcerated – a practice which harkens back to debtor prisons of old.”