The Slatest

Rural Alabama Judge Gives Penniless Defendants the Option to Give Blood or Go to Jail

The Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A rural Alabama judge is facing criticism, and an ethics complaint, for telling a courtroom full of defendants, many indigent, that if they could not pay their fines or court fees, they could donate blood. Otherwise they would be sent to jail. The Southern Poverty Law Center released a recording of Perry County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins spelling out his policy to his courtroom last month:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. For your consideration, there’s a blood drive outside and if you don’t have any money, and you don’t want to go to jail, as an option to pay it, you can give blood today … So 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.

“Without speaking to the judge about their financial situation, many indigent defendants gave blood out of fear of going to jail,” according to the SPLC, which says demanding defendants give blood to avoid jail time violates the Alabama and U.S. Constitutions. Legal experts told the New York Times Wiggins’ demand was improper. “What happened is wrong in about 3,000 ways,” said Arthur L. Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at New York University told the Times. “You’re basically sentencing someone to an invasive procedure that doesn’t benefit them and isn’t protecting the public health.”

“Efforts by courts and local governments to generate revenue by imposing fines for minor offenses, particularly from poor and working-class people, have attracted widespread attention and condemnation in recent months,” the New York Times reports.