Alabama Judge Marvin Wiggins is under fire this week after he offered to trade blood donations for judicial fines or fees while threatening those without money or blood donation receipts with arrest. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed an ethics complaint The SPLC obtained audio tapes, including people complaining that they felt forced to give blood by Wiggins.
Wiggins told a packed courtroom:
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. or your consideration, there’s a blood drive outside . . . If you don’t have any money, go out there and give blood and bring in a receipt indicating you gave blood.”
He then added menacingly:
“If you do not have any money and you don’t want to go to jail, consider giving blood today and bring me your receipt back, or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money.”
The judicial trade offered by Wiggins is wildly inappropriate and worthy of sanctions in my view. To demand the participation of indigents in an invasive procedure or face jail is coercive and improper.
Additionally, the SPLC argues that “a person cannot be legally sentenced to jail over debt they cannot pay, but the judge failed to assess the defendants’ ability to pay before the hearing.”
Wiggins simply makes up his own sense of justice in a trade. They were told to bring a receipt to the clerk showing they had given a pint of blood, and in return they would receive a $100 credit toward their fines. They would also remain free.
It was a trade that caused one man to object so loudly that he was escorted from the courtroom. An older man reportedly passed out while trying to give blood to avoid jail.
Historically, courts would sometimes consider blood donations in lieu of fines, particularly during World War II. However, to unilaterally create a blood-for-fines trade today is well outside of the lines of judicial discretion in my view.
To make matters worse, one defendant noted that the blood bank, LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, had recently lost a $4 million judgment for an H.I.V.-tainted blood transfusion.
Wiggins received his undergraduate degree from Alabama State University in 1986, his J.D. from Howard University in 1990, and his master of laws degree from Emory University in 1992.
Prior to being elected to the court, Wiggins practiced law with the firms of The Law Office of Johnnie Hardwick and Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway & Campbell, LLC.