Hundreds of criminal offenders were summoned in September to appear in Perry County Court (Marion, AL) for a special payment-due hearing. They were guilty of various crimes including hunting after dark, drug possession, and passing bad checks; and they also owed fines and court costs that they were unable to pay. Most of the offenders still owed thousands of dollars after making years of payments. They received a stunning choice from Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins. He told them if they had no money to pay the fines or fees they could donate blood or they could go to jail.
One staffer thought everyone was joking, but dozens of poor offenders gave blood because they were afraid they would go to jail if they didn’t. An elderly man is said to have passed out after giving blood. Another man got so angry he had to be removed from the room. Still another was led to believe that even if he paid as much as he could, he still needed to donate blood or he would go to jail. Dozens of offenders were told that they would receive $100 credit toward their fines for donating blood but a lawyer from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said that did not happen in any of the cases she reviewed.
Health and legal experts agree that Judge Wiggins’ behavior was improper. NYU law professor Tony Thompson said what Judge Wiggins did was both illegal and unconscionable. “It violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause”, he said.
The blood collection group said all of the blood was quarantined and tested and later a great deal of it was discarded. They said Judges Wiggins’ coercion violated rules intended to ensure the safety of the blood supply.
In October, SPLC filed a judicial ethics complaint against Judge Wiggins. The Judicial Inquiry Commission could recommend that the judge face ethics charges in the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. It has the power to impose sanctions that include removal from office.