$7.50 is the per-hour compensation for serving on a jury in New Mexico courts, almost 25 percent lower than the city’s living wage.
"Somebody saw the kid stab his Father, what more do we need? You guys can talk the ears right off my head you know what I mean? I got three garages of mine going to pot while you’re talking! So let’s get down and get out of here!"—Juror No. 10, played by Ed Begley, 12 Angry Men
The number of citizens claiming financial hardship in order to be excused from jury duty has "picked up noticeably," according to New Mexico Public Defender Jeffrey Buckels.
Buckels, who argued about death penalty juries before the Supreme Court this month, passed on an inquiry from SFR to the internal public defender's Listserv and reported back that the recession is, indeed, impacting juries.
He relates an anecdote from two trials in Santa Fe this spring, in which the judge excused several jurors who couldn't afford the time off work.
"It is quite unusual to see significant numbers excused for this reason…but the judges in these cases were very understanding given the current state of the economy," Buckels tells SFR via email. "There were also a lot of unemployed people on both panels, though [I] can't say whether they showed up because they needed the $7.50/hour."
Most states offer citizens a small per diem to offset the cost of serving on juries, but New Mexico is one of the few to mandate an hourly rate for fulfilling the civic responsibility. In 2008, the New Mexico rate rose from $6.50 to $7.50.
Since the beginning of the year, the First Judicial District Court has sent out 3,800 jury summonses in Santa Fe County and 2,364 in Rio Arriba County. Santa Fe County Magistrate Court sends approximately 800 summonses per quarter.
"If someone comes in for jury selection and it's a really long jury trial and they're actively trying to find a job, our judges are going to take that into consideration," Program Manager Jamie Boling tells SFR.
More often, potential jurors complain about the travel, Boling says; jurors who commute more than 20 miles are eligible for a 32-cent-per-mile reimbursement.
Potential jurors may find slightly more lucrative work in the private sector. Southwest Jury Consulting, an Albuquerque-based firm that runs mock trials for lawyers preparing cases, says it pays mock jurors between $75 to $200 per case, which can last from four hours to two days. A Santa Fe-based firm, Excel Staffing, was advertising $10 per hour on Craigslist for jurors in a San Miguel County mock trial.