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Indiana to double jury pay this year in bid to increase participation, fairness in trial panels

Two glass doors with wooden borders bearing the seal of the Marion Superior Court. A sign reading "Courtroom c04-3" can be seen through the glass doors.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
The state will cover costs by raising fees on defendants who are found guilty from $2 to $6. People who file certain types of lawsuits would be charged a $75 fee because such cases use a jury.

Indiana jurors will be paid some of the highest daily wages in the nation under a new law signed this week. Lawmakers and court officials hope the increase will make it easier to fill the jury box.

In a handful of recent cases,mistrials were declared because courts couldn't find enough jurors. Judges, prosecutors and public defenders testified in support of House Bill 1466. Starting in July, the new law will double the maximum daily compensation to $80 with an increase to $90 after the sixth day of trial.

With some days of trial lasting seven to 10 hours, current daily jury pay of $40 is equivalent to just over half the state’s $7.25 minimum hourly wage. The compensation has remained unchanged for over two decades. Court officials told lawmakers that pay prevents courts from getting enough jurors to fully represent communities.

“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,” Johnson County judge Marla 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.”

The state has also paid jurors $15 for each day they are impaneled, but not actively in court. The new law will raise those payments to $30.

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This new law will 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 raise the pay to $80 failed to become law.

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 state will cover 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.

Some supporters, like Indiana Public Defender Council Director Bernice Corley, expressed concern in testimony about the fee increase.

“I speak just out of concern for our clients,” she said. “Our clients are indigent. And while $4 doesn't seem like much, there are already a lot of fines and fees on people who are convicted of a criminal offense.”

Corley pointed to a 10-year strategic plan the Judicial Conference of Indiana created in 2020 that 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.”

But, Corley and others say, the increased compensation is so desperately needed that they can stomach the fee increase.

Adam is our labor and employment reporter. Contact him at arayes@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB.

Adam is Indiana Public Broadcasting's labor and employment reporter. He was born and raised in southeast Michigan, where he got his first job as a sandwich artist at Subway in high school. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 2019, he joined Michigan Radio's Stateside show as a production assistant. He then became the rural and small communities reporter at KUNC in Northern Colorado.