Donate blood or go to jail, judge tells defendants

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An Alabama judge has allegedly ordered defendants to donate blood to avoid being sent to prison, after he was told that they may not be able to afford to pay fines.

A video of Judge Marvin Wiggins telling a roomful of around 500 defendants exactly that has surfaced on the Southern Poverty Law Centre website.

“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,” Judge Wiggins said.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre has since filed an ethics complaint against the judge alleging that he did not assess the defendants’ ability to pay, which is a requirement in Alabama before sentencing someone to jail for not paying a fine, the ABC reported yesterday.

According to the group, Wiggin’s actions violate the US and Alabama constitutions. 

Despite the fact that the threat of jail for non-payment is not unique, the group believes the blood donating might be.

“Far too often in Alabama, we find that your legal rights are tied to your bank account,” said staff Attorney Sara Zampierin 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.”

Reports suggested that Wiggins told defendants they might get a discount after giving blood, but the Southern Poverty Law Centre said in reality defendants only avoided jail time and still owed the fines and court fees after donating.

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