MIAMI, Oct 21, 2015:
A US judge allegedly ordered defendants who were unable to pay fines and court fees to donate blood in order to avoid being sent to jail.
“If you do not have any money and you don’t want to go to jail, consider giving blood today… or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money,” Perry County (Alabama) Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins told a roomful of more than 500 defendants on September 17, according to an audio recording posted on Tuesday on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The civil rights group filed an ethics complaint against the judge with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama.
In it, the group alleged that Wiggins failed to assess defendants’ ability to pay, which is required before sentencing someone to jail for nonpayment or charging them for a court-appointed attorney in Alabama.
SPLC also alleged that the practice violated the US and Alabama constitutions.
The group noted that being unlawfully jailed for nonpayment is not unique to Alabama, but the blood donation situation may be.
“Far too often in Alabama, we find that your legal rights are tied to your bank account,” Sara Zampierin, a staff attorney in SPLC’s Montgomery, Alabama, office said in a statement.
“It’s a two-tiered system of justice – one for those who can pay and another for those who can’t. We must stop exploiting the poor.”
The complaint says several of the defendants, some of whom had committed crimes as minor as hunting violations, gave blood after Wiggins suggested they would get a “discount”.
But SPLC said the defendants only avoided jail time – they still owed the same fines and court fees as before they donated blood.