South Dakota offers the highest pay in the nation for jurors, $50 a day, plus mileage. That matches what Uncle Sam pays jurors in federal cases. But even that relatively generous rate means a juror sitting in court for a full day makes less than South Dakota’s $10.80 minimum wage, meaning that any South Dakotan who takes a day off work to hear and decide a trial takes a financial loss. The cost of serving skews the jury pool:
…juries often wind up packed with senior citizens, including some who look at service as extra income, and well-paid citizens whose employers cover the cost of their time away.
That has implications for justice, according to Pat Pardy, a circuit court judge who testified as an individual to support the bill. Citizens have a constitutional right to a trial by a jury of their peers, but Pardy said many judges will exercise discretion when jurors ask to be excused for financial hardship.
The socioeconomic backgrounds of the resulting juries might not reflect the background of a defendant or their community.
“You start releasing them, and it starts creating potential constitutional issues with the jury panel,” Pardy said [John Hult, “Lawmakers Nix Bill to Raise SD’s Nation-Leading Juror Pay,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.03.03].
Rookie Representative Tim Reisch (R-8/Howard) tried to rectify that unfairness with House Bill 1098, which would have raised juror pay to $80 for the first five days of service and $120 for any subsequent days in court. That’s still below minimum wage for the first five days, but it’s progress.
Unfortunately, HB 1098 would have been progress at the expense of counties, whom Reisch failed to fund for this mandated largesse:
“Let us not forget that it is the counties who are bearing the brunt of this looming economic crisis. It is not the state of South Dakota who is actually incurring the cost,” [Hughes County Manager Lori] Jacobson said. “As the bill is written, it will be another unfunded mandate placed upon the counties.”
The proposal would cost Hughes County $20,000 to $40,000 a year, she said. Pennington County Commissioner Gary Drewes told the committee it would cost his county $180,000-$200,000.
“These dollars, again, would come from our property taxpayers,” Drewes said [Hult, 2023.03.03].
After seven minutes of deliberation, Senate Judiciary spared the counties this additional expense and sentenced HB 1098 to death on a 5–2 vote.
Why didn’t Rep. Reisch put some state money where his mouth is?
After the vote, Reisch told South Dakota Searchlight that in order to secure state funding for something like juror payments, he’d need the support of Gov. Kristi Noem – something he didn’t have this year for his bill as written [Hult, 2023.03.03].
Oh, well, if we’re waiting for Governor Noem to demonstrate the ability to pay attention to practical policy issues, let alone get them through the Legislature, then alas, jurors, I guess you’re stuck.