Judge Marvin Wiggins issued an ultimatum, “give blood or go to jail,” to defendants who could not pay fines. The Alabama judge has been chastised by some for issuing the order to poor citizens convicted of minor crimes. The judge has been heralded by some taxpayers who feel the guilty should pay up, one way or another.
On September 17, Judge Marvin Wiggins uttered the give blood or go to jail ultimatum from the bench, sparking a now viral news story.
“If you do not have any money and you do not want to go to jail, as an option to pay it, you can give blood today,” Judge Wiggins said, according to a recording of the proceedings given to the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Consider that as a discount rather than putting you in jail.”
— HBCU News (@hbcunews) October 21, 2015
The judge’s ultimatum is a bit on the unusual side and might not be legal. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) claims Wiggins cannot give the defendants a choice between donating blood and going to jail because it is against statute to send anyone to jail over debts they can’t afford to pay.
The SPLC maintains a hearing must first be held to determine if the defendant has the financial ability to cover fines or outstanding payments. Although no text in Alabama state law stipulates that giving blood is an acceptable alternative payment, nothing in the legal code prohibits such a trade0ff either, according to the Huffington Post.
2. You can listen to an audio recording of Perry County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins and a blood bank worker here: https://t.co/C7OmoPtauy
— SPLC (@splcenter) October 20, 2015
“So, if you do not have any money and you don’t want to go to jail, consider giving blood today and bring your receipt back or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money,” Judge Wiggins reportedly added during the same court hearing.
If the defendants agreed to donate a single pint of blood, Judge Wiggins would give them a $100 credit against their fines and permit them to go free, according to a New York Times report. The day the deal was offered, “many” defendants who did not have the funds to cover their debt took advantage of the judge’s ultimatum, and in turn allowed them to help others.
After receiving a recording from the hearing, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed an ethics compliant against Judge Wiggins for the alleged mistreatment of indigent defendants.
“In giving these orders, Judge Wiggins did not ‘respect and comply with the law,’ was not ‘faithful to the law,’ and did not demonstrate professional competence in the law,” the SPLC complaint said.
The recording from inside the Alabama court room also reportedly captured an exchange between a blood bank staffer and the district attorney’s office.
District attorney’s office staffer: “Did we bring you all a lot of people?”
Blood bank staffer: “You sure did.”
Dozens of delinquent defendants reportedly showed up for the hearing the day the give blood or go to jail ultimatum was uttered. Approximately 500 individuals who owed fines did not show up as summoned.
Judge Wiggins ordered the defendants to cover the cost of their court appointed attorney before determining if they have the means to pay for their own legal defense, the SPLC claims.
In 2009, Wiggins was reprimanded for failing to recuse himself from a voter fraud investigation which involved his cousin, brother-in-law, and sister.
According to the Alabama State University website, Marvin Wiggins became the first African-American judge on the 4th Judicial Circuit in 1999. Wiggins was also reportedly the youngest black judge in the Alabama circuit court.
[Image via Shutterstock.com]