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Judge Giving Option of Giving a Pint of Blood or Paying a Fine: Ethical or Improper?

Is it permissible for a judge to require someone found guilty to either pay the fee or give a pint of blood?

Photo by Rumble Press (Flickr).

How far is too far for judges to go to get a convicted person to pay their fines?  Should they be permitted to give jail time?  Should they be permitted to require volunteer work?  Should they be required to notify the convicted person’s employer or require their employer to give part of the convicted person’s paycheck to the court system?  What about requiring the convicted person to give a pint of blood if they can’t pay their fine?  Should a judge be able to implement a system for requiring the convicted person to donate or give something instead of paying fines to serve a purpose the judge holds near and dear to his or her heart?

If the offender didn’t have money to pay the fine, they were given the option to give a pint of blood … to satisfy their obligation.

An Alabama judge, Judge Marvin Wiggins, gave offenders owing finds or fees for a variety of crimes the option to pay their fine or fee or give a pint of blood.  If the offender didn’t have money to pay the fine, they were given the option to give a pint of blood and bring a receipt of that donation to satisfy their obligation.

Offenders were confused as to their options.  Were they being required to pay the full amount due, instead of continuing their monthly payments?  Were they being required to donate blood and no longer given a monthly payment option?  Was it donate blood or pay in full?  Many felt compelled to donate blood, and were not fond of this.

This is not the first time something like this has happened.  After Pearl Harbor, for instance, many people in Honolulu were ordered to give blood or give a blood donation instead of paying a fine for an offense.  We have also seen where convicts were given the opportunity to make money in exchange for blood donations.

[H]ere, people are being required to either pay or donate and are compelled to donate blood in lieu of paying a fine.

But this situation is unique.  There has been no disaster such as Pearl Harbor.  There is no cash incentive for blood donation. Rather, here, people are being required to either pay or donate and are compelled to donate blood in lieu of paying a fine.  Not only that, but this is being done by a judge.

When asked about his decision, Judge Wiggins defended his action by stating he was trying to find a creative way to help the impoverished community.  Rather than having them pay a fee that they may not have the funds to pay, they could give back to their community by giving blood.

Many criticize the Judge Wiggins’ decision as ordering offenders to give blood instead of payment or face jail time.  Many, too, found this behavior to be improper, but it is unethical?  The Southern Poverty Law Center filed an ethics complaint against Judge Wiggins claiming he violated many peoples’ bodily integrity.

Canon 2 states that a judge shall perform the duties of his or her judicial office in an impartial, competent, and diligent manner.

The Code of Judicial Conduct has four canons of behavior that base the entirety of the rules for judges.  Canon 1 states that a judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.  Canon 2 states that a judge shall perform the duties of his or her judicial office in an impartial, competent, and diligent manner.  Canon 3 states that a judge shall conduct his or her personal and extrajudicial activities in a manner so as to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.  Canon 4 states that a judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that does not align with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary and the judicial office, which he holds or for which he is running.

On the face of the conduct, it does not appear that Judge Wiggins’ conduct is not in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  He has not necessarily failed to uphold the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.  He has not necessarily failed to perform his duties in an impartial, competent, and diligent manner.  His personal activities were not involved, nor is he engaging in political activity, necessarily.

It could be seen as a judge compelling offenders to give blood . . .

However, when you look deeper into his actions, it may be argued that Judge Wiggins is showing that he is willing to excuse what the law requires, such as paying fines for particular offenses, in exchange for a cause he cares about.  It could show that Judge Wiggins is ignoring the law and imposing what he thinks is best, which would be overstepping his role.  It could be seen as a judge compelling offenders to give blood or to participate in conduct that removes something from their bodies that they normally would not be doing without fear of jail time or other repercussions from the judge.

Does Judge Wiggins’ conduct violate the Code of Judicial Conduct?  Is Judge Wiggins overstepping his judicial capabilities? Or is it simply a creative solution?

Regan Gatlin, Ethics Editor
About Regan Gatlin, Ethics Editor (42 Articles)
Regan Gatlin is a 2016 graduate and served as the Ethics Editor for the Campbell Law Observer for the 2015-2016 academic year. Regan graduated from North Carolina State University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology. Regan has previously clerked for the Insurance Section of the North Carolina Department of Justice, The General Counsel of The Select Group, and Safran Law Offices. During her experiences clerking, she gained civil litigation and research experience in the areas of insurance, construction law, labor and employment, and compliance. She also competed on a Campbell Law Trial Team in the Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Mock Trial Competition. Regan is from Smithfield, North Carolina.
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