Ear Hustle

Alabama Judge Orders Criminals Who Can’t Pay To Donate A Pint Of Blood Or Else

An Alabama judge has come under fire because he went “old school” on the defendants in his court room.  The individuals who stood before him has a variance of offenses but owed restitution.  Judge Marvin Wiggins gave them a choice in order to prevent jail time and the option was  quite clear… donate blood or go to jail.

The practice of this type of outcome although fairly different, has people out done and outraged and from what we’ve read no one went to jail at least but from Judge Wiggins’ courtroom.  It’s no different back in the day, criminals were ordered to join the Army or risk being put in jail for their crimes against society.

You be the judge in this one, would you agree to donating blood to keep from going to jail?

Share your thoughts and read more as reported by the New York Times:


Judge Marvin Wiggins’s courtroom was packed on a September morning. The docket listed hundreds of offenders who owed fines or fees for a wide variety of crimes — hunting after dark, assault, drug possession and passing bad checks among them.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” began Judge Wiggins, a circuit judge here in rural Alabama since 1999. “For your consideration, there’s a blood drive outside,” he continued, according to a recording of the hearing. “If you don’t have any money, go out there and give blood and bring in a receipt indicating you gave blood.”

For those who had no money or did not want to give blood, the judge concluded: “The sheriff has enough handcuffs.”

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. But legal and health experts said they could not think of another modern example of a court all but ordering offenders to give blood in lieu of payment, or face jail time. They all agreed that it was improper.

“What happened is wrong in about 3,000 ways,” said Arthur L. Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, part of New York University. “You’re basically sentencing someone to an invasive procedure that doesn’t benefit them and isn’t protecting the public health.”

Reached by phone, Judge Wiggins said: “I cannot speak with you.”

On that particular day, several offenders, young and old, gathered at the Perry County courthouse and queued up to donate blood at a mobile blood bank parked on the street. After donating, they received a receipt that they had to show the clerk to get a $100 credit towards their fines, as well as their release. This initiative shows how blood donation programs, such as those available on https://bio-sharing.org/, could help solve some social issues and contribute to the well-being of a community.

Carl Crocker, who was among those who owed money to the court, recounted seeing one older man pass out after his blood was taken. Another defendant, Traci Green, said that one young man became so angry about the choice he was given that he was taken out of the courtroom.

James M. Barnes Jr., a lawyer who was in the courtroom that morning, said, “I thought it was really unusual.”

“I don’t know whether it’s legal or not. I don’t know if that violates half the Constitution,” he said.

On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed an ethics complaint against Judge Wiggins, saying he had committed “a violation of bodily integrity.” The group also objected to the hearing beyond the matter of blood collection, calling the entire proceeding unconstitutional.

Payment-due hearings like this one are part of a new initiative by Alabama’s struggling courts to raise money by aggressively pursuing outstanding fines, restitution, court costs and lawyer fees. Many of those whose payments are sought in these hearings have been found at one point to be indigent, yet their financial situations often are not considered when they are summoned for outstanding payments.

Several people who were at the hearing on Sept. 17 said they were unsure whether they were being ordered to pay the entire amount due or their usual monthly payment, which many had already been paying on time, often for offenses dating back a decade or more.

Mr. Green, 43, who owes thousands of dollars in connection with two marijuana-related convictions — one from 1998 — said he had offered to pay as much as he could but had been led to believe that he had to give blood anyway.

“He told us we got to go there and give some blood or we go to jail,” Mr. Green said. He said he had willingly given blood before but, like others there on that day, did not want to be compelled to do so.

Ordering defendants to give blood used to be more commonplace, particularly during wartime, according to “Flesh and Blood,” a history of blood transfusions and organ transplantation by Susan Lederer, a professor of medical history at Yale.

In the mid-20th century, judges in several places around the country, including Honolulu after the Pearl Harbor attack, ordered people convicted of traffic violations to give blood or offered blood donations as an alternative to a fine. More commonly, prisoners would receive cash incentives or reduced sentences for giving blood. (As late as 2008, a judge in Broward County, Fla., offered traffic offenders the choice of a fine, community service or a blood donation.)

But fears about the spread of hepatitis led to a broad move away from compensation for blood in the 1970s and to what has become a nearly all-volunteer blood donation system. While it is not illegal to pay someone for blood, the Food and Drug Administration does require that blood collected in exchange for compensation be labeled “paid,” and hospitals generally refuse such blood for transfusions.

Mr. Crocker, 41, who made the recordings of Judge Wiggins, also recorded the employees of the mobile blood bank, who seemed fully aware of the sentence-reduction arrangement. Mr. Crocker said he grew even more uncomfortable later, after he recognized the blood bank, LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, which had recently lost a $4 million judgment for an H.I.V.-tainted blood transfusion.

“It’s just wrong for them to utilize people who are in the court system and essentially extort blood out of you because you owe traffic tickets, misdemeanors, felonies, whatever you’re there for,” Mr. Crocker said.

Jill Evans, a vice president for LifeSouth, which is based in Gainesville, Fla., said the employee who set up the blood drive with the courthouse had acted improperly because the employee understood ahead of time that the judge would reduce community service obligations for those willing to donate, a violation of company policy.

“We appreciate the judge’s attempt to support the community’s blood needs,” Ms. Evans said. “However, LifeSouth prohibits blood donations from being considered as community service because it is potentially an unacceptable incentive for a volunteer donor.”

Ms. Evans said that after receiving a complaint, LifeSouth quarantined and tested the blood, tried to contact all the donors and eventually discarded nearly all of the blood units collected.

The record at the county jail shows that no one was taken into custody that day. The court clerk said in a brief interview that there had been no intention of jailing anyone; Mr. Crocker said this was because everyone decided that having blood taken was better than going to jail.

However, Sara Zampierin, a lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that in the handful of instances she reviewed of people who gave blood, none had received the $100 discount they had been promised.

Source: NY Times

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