Legal Ethics

Alabama judge censured for telling offenders who couldn't afford fines to give blood or face jail

  • Print.

An Alabama judge has been publicly censured for telling defendants who couldn’t afford to pay their fines to donate blood or face jail.

Perry County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins had admitted violating five provisions of the state’s Canons of Judicial Ethics, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a press release.

The SPLC had filed an ethics complaint against Wiggins last October after he told a group of defendants they could get a $100 credit towards their fines if they donated blood at a mobile blood bank outside the courthouse.

Those who couldn’t afford to pay and didn’t want to give blood could be jailed, the judge suggested, telling the defendants, “The sheriff has enough handcuffs.”

The Court of the Judiciary, in a Jan. 21 decision (PDF), said it regarded the judge’s remarks as misconduct. But it also cited the judge’s quick admission of wrongdoing for its decision to issue a public censure rather than a more serious sanction.

SPLC senior staff attorney Sara Zampierin said the decision sends a “clear message” that the constitutional rights of the poor must be respected in Alabama’s courtrooms.

“No one should be forced to give blood or go to jail simply because they cannot afford to pay their court fines and fees,” she said.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.