The Palm Beach Post reported today about a growing problem in Palm Beach County: prospective jurors who cannot serve on a jury because they simply can’t afford it. In the State of Florida, employers are not required to pay employees their salary when they are at jury duty. While Broward County has a county ordinance requiring employers to pay salaries when their employees serve on a jury that lasts five days or less, Palm Beach County has no such ordinance. Employers can pay salaries for the entire length of jury duty, for a limited number of days, or not at all.
This creates a huge financial hardship for some prospective jurors. And it creates a huge problem for the criminal justice system. A person accused of a crime is entitled to have a jury of his peers decide whether the prosecution has proved him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That means everyday people, not lawyers, not judges, not professional jurors, make that decision. Without any means of ensuring that their jobs and their finances are secure, more and more prospective jurors simply can’t serve, even if they are fair and impartial jurors, which is what everyone involved in the system is looking for.