The Southern Poverty Law Center filed an ethics complaint against Judge Marvin Wiggins of Marion, Al., saying he had committed “a violation of bodily integrity” by saying that defendants could give blood in a blood drive instead of paying fines for a variety of crimes, including hunting after dark, assault, drug possession and passing bad checks, the New York Times report. For those who had no money or did not want to give blood, the judge said, “The sheriff has enough handcuffs.” Efforts by courts and local governments to generate revenue by imposing fines for minor offenses have attracted widespread attention, but experts 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 agreed that it was improper.
“What happened is wrong in about 3,000 ways,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at New York University. “You're basically sentencing someone to an invasive procedure that doesn't benefit them and isn't protecting the public health.” Dozens of offenders who showed up in the Alabama court one day in September waited their turn at a mobile blood bank parked in the street. They were told to bring a receipt to the clerk showing they had given a pint of blood, and in return they would receive a $100 credit toward their fines and be allowed to go free. Payment-due hearings like the one at issue in Alabama are part of a new initiative by the state's struggling courts to raise money by aggressively pursuing outstanding fines, restitution, court costs and lawyer fees. Many of those whose payments are sought have been found to be indigent, yet their financial situations often are not considered when they are summoned for outstanding payments.