Alabama Judge Censured for Forcing Defendants to Give Blood or Go to Jail

Judge to defendants: Give blood or go to jail

Judge to defendants: Give blood or go to jail

On January 21, 2016, Judge Marvin Wiggins, Circuit Judge of Perry County, Alabama, was censured by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, by forcing criminal defendants to give blood or be incarcerated.  Mr. Wiggins has was elected as Circuit Judge in 1998 and has subsequently served in the position for some 16 years.

The ethic charges in the case were filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that fights for the legal rights of disenfranchised and improvised citizens.  The Judicial Inquiry Commission found sufficient credibility in the charges to submit an ethics violation complaint to the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.  The Complaint specified several ethical standards that had been violated, primarily centering on appearance of impropriety and failure to uphold the integrity of the judiciary.

According to the complaint document, Judge Wiggins, while sitting in his official capacity, “violated the Alabama Cannons of Judicial Ethics by threatening to incarcerate defendants who had ‘no money’ to pay their court-ordered financial assessments unless they ‘donated blood’.“  The document stated that the Judge’s unethical behavior took place “on September 17, 2015, during a ‘pay-due’ docket conducted in Perry County”.

One of the defendants audio recorded Judge Wiggins making the unethical proposition to the group of defendants at the hearing.  In the recording the Judge referred to a blood mobile that was outside the court room and said: “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.” Forty-one of the defendants gave blood.

SPLC Newsletter stated that “many indigent defendants gave blood out of fear of going to jail.” One defendant had this to say: “I normally do [give blood], but I don’t like being told I have to or I’m going to jail.”

The public statement of censure by the Court of Judiciary states that Judge Marvin Wiggins acted improperly and violated five provisions of the state’s Canons of Judicial Ethics.  Sara Zampierin, SPLC senior staff attorney, was pleased with the Court’s action. She stated: “The Judicial Inquiry Commission is sending a clear message that the constitutional rights of the poor must be respected in Alabama courtrooms.”


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