Alabama Judge Under Fire For Blood-for-Fines Trade

220px-Blood_Donation_12-07-06_1Alabama 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.

23 thoughts on “Alabama Judge Under Fire For Blood-for-Fines Trade”

  1. Mr. Schulte,

    This place is not a forum for philosophers or lawyers to have professional disagreements (are you an attorney?).

    Hahaha Mr. Schulte, you would love for JT to be your buddy. i’ve seen how you, Spinellie, david(something) and a host of others, fawn at the blog hahahah.

    1. chipkelly – JT and I have never met. He is hardly my buddy. Besides, lawyers disagree all the time. So do philosophers. I just got back from an art show and the judges had a hard time agreeing who to award the prizes to.

  2. It’s a good idea, but I see no way to present it that doesn’t make it look bad. Also, considering the folks most likely to be in this position, there’s a great likelihood that they have made other mistakes in judgment that will make their blood tainted in some way, thus making the offer a waste of the bloodbank’s resources. Personally, I donated more than 10 gallons before I began taking medication that made me ineligible, or I’d still be doing it.

  3. The judge, it just so happens, is an African American. Your rant surely doesn’t take that into account–doesn’t dare mention that inconvenient truth. Why? Because it doesn’t fit with your often rambling, incoherent and ludicrous diatribes. What say you about the judge being a man of color? Huh? No white, evil cracker abusing others because of some alleged racial prejudice here. Doesn’t it suck to be you?

  4. The fact the blog is not the least bit outraged by this demonstrates the concern for “public interest”.

    JT is much more interested in the judge (look at the title, and people he’s represented) but the public? Not so much, this is creepy and unethical. There is really no “view” here. if this happened to one of JT’s clients or colleagues there would be no question of it’s depth of evil, but indigent, mostly colored people are involved… Analysis changes…. wouldn’t want to upset a fellow Madisonian Const. Scholar… much more important to than the public.

    1. chipkelly – you can sell your blood so it is a commodity. So, the judge is having them pay with their blood when they don’t have the cash. Big deal.

  5. Clearly his comment was made in reference to those who already had outstanding fines or who pled guilty and were assessed fines. The issue is the propriety of offering defendants who cannot pay their fines the option of donating blood in lieu of jail or merely sending them to serve the time in jail. There is no suggestion in the article, nor in the SPLC complaint, that he was denying people due process or otherwise arbitrarily fining defendants who appeared before him. The only question is whether giving indigent defendants the option of donating blood, either to avoid jail or to reduce the amount of time they would spend there, is inappropriate, given its invasive nature and the lack of precedent. Clearly, a number of defendants took the judge up on his offer, though the extent to which any or all of them were coerced into doing so, as opposed to voluntarily choosing their preferred sentencing option when it was offered to them, remains unknown.

  6. And that calls into issue why the guy i tried to hire didnt want to work… pay off a mere warrant….???? As are ppl being made to pay before a trial on guilt….the local radio host intimates as much…..that is the story turley…..not the blood but due process.

  7. If he had given them the opportunity to pick up trash for four hours someone would have bitched about their back….or whatever opp he came up with. And these aren’t not yet guilty ppl are they? Like when you are chrged with something… don’t have to pay a dime to show for your court date. Now if you had to pay first to even get a trial… Thats the injustice….not the blood opportunity.

  8. They didn’t have to give blood. That was an offer of opportuniy. If they didn’t want to they’d be exactly where they were. My beef is not everyone can or should give blood. Ppls blood who has to be tossed out cuz its full of crack or hiv shouldn’t get a get out of jail free card for contributing nothing. And likewise a good blood giver gets out of jail for contributing something of value. Equal protection. ….of the blood’s recipient too….??? Yeah maybe a dumb bargain…..but i give the judge the beni of the doubt…so often these ppl have money pass thru their hands and they dont pay the court. I offered a guy a job but said i’d send his pay to the judge for his warrants bill. He wouldnt take the pretty basic job. Sat at
    home instead. This judge proves they rather bitch and moan and he gives them an offer and they bitch and moan…..still. Yeah i am in alabama.

  9. Why stop there? Unless these so-called poor people are drug users or smokers (OK, they probably are), they must have two good kidneys, two lungs, working livers and plenty of other perfectly usable, harvestable body parts. There are perfectly good Americans (you know who I mean), sitting on transplant lists who could benefit from the organs of these already parasitic members of society. Let’s “value” the poor for what they really can contribute other than their prison labor.

  10. Why is it that some folks can’t seem to distinguish between the very simple, common and useful concept of community service–whereby a defendant can utilize some sweat equity in resolving his financial obligations to the court, while giving back to the community, at the same time–and the requirement of donating bodily fluids or parts? There is no comparison. Being given the opportunity to work in a food pantry, animal shelter or some other not-for-profit, in exchange for paying fees and/or costs to the court, is a positive and useful method often implemented by the legal system. Lumping that opportunity together, with the antics of some misguided judge, is unfortunate.

    Couldn’t help but notice: JT normally splashes a photo of the object of the article for all to see–the attorney, turned prostitute, the stupid criminal sporting a neck tat, etc. Not here. Just a photo of an arm. The absence of his photo, of course, made me curious. I googled his name. Nuff said.

  11. Paul

    Sentencing someone to community service is ok when the law so provides. Not ok if the law does not so provide.

    Also, some people find giving blood objectionable, for various reasons. What if the judge had instead asked the men to donate sperm to a sperm bank or had asked women to donate five hours of their time to NARAL?

    1. Don de Drain – they have two options: door no. 1 and door no 2. If they object, for some reason to door no 1, they get door no. 2.

      Personally, I object to being fined at all, but that is not going to get me off the hook. 😉

  12. This presupposes guilt. There’s something, somewhere in the Constitution about that, and maybe even the bible, yes?
    A choice of a fine or your blood’s a different story, no?

  13. The judge has a perverted sense of his power and should be removed from the bench but he won’t be. I would be surprised if his fellow judges took any action at all.

  14. It’s a stupid and wasteful idea anyway. Given these are homeless shufflers, the the SPLC doesn’t get involved unless certain “demographic” are involved, and the fact that the combination of these two things means the blood in question is most likely tainted, all this does is waste the blood donation people’s time and money.

    Aside from that though, there’s nothing in this that I can see as wrong, either judicially or ethically. I will say, however, that the way the Judge phrased it was needlessly confrontational since all he was doing was offering an alternative to jail time for the criminals who couldn’t pay their fines. And yes, as is usual, the SPLC was dead wrong; fines levied as punishment aren’t debts for which one cannot be incarcerated.

  15. No way I’m going to try to compete with Mr. Don de Drain’s comment. Well crafted.
    It’s amazing how many judges there are who exhibit serious lapses of judgment these days. I suppose it’s just that we’re hearing about them more than we would have back in the days of print media, but wow. King Solomon this guy is not.

  16. I heard a rumor that the person who complained the loudest was one Mr. Gregory Turnup, who complained that you can’t get blood from a Turnup.

    This judge should resign yesterday.

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