"Friends of the Court" Fighting for the Release of Sundiata Acoli, in Prison for Killing State Trooper
Amici Briefs include Black Law Enforcement Groups Supporting His Release
Aug 24, 2021, 10:30 ET
TRENTON, N.J., Aug. 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Six new amicus curiae briefs were filed in the New Jersey Supreme Court late yesterday demonstrating the overwhelming legal arguments in favor of granting parole to Sundiata Acoli.
Acoli, 84, has been imprisoned since 1973 after conviction of first-degree murder in 1973 of a New Jersey State Trooper during a shootout on the state turnpike. Despite being eligible for parole since 1993, the state has denied Acoli's parole eight times, all of them based on procedural technicalities. Acoli is suffering from early dementia and continuing health deterioration exacerbated by his hospitalization with Covid-19 last year.
The briefs focus on issues that are germane to Acoli's case including Aging and Recidivism, Parole Board Bias, Due Process, Racial Disparities in Parole, and First Amendment violations.
"These briefs offer substantive arguments for the New Jersey Supreme Court to grant Sundiata parole as soon as possible," said Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice, who has led the amici filings. "The breadth and depth of the issues in these briefs provide irrefutable points and compelling arguments based on the law and extensive research in support of release coupled with significant perspectives important to this case."
The briefs are intended to provide substantial credence to the case, which is awaiting oral arguments before the Court. Amicus curiae is the Latin phrase that means "friend of the court." Frequently, a person or group who is not a party to an action, but has a strong interest in the case, will petition the court for permission to submit a brief with the intent of influencing the court's decision. A seventh brief is also expected to be filed next week.
One of the most notable briefs includes four National Black law enforcement groups, who argue that Acoli has served enough time and should be released. The coalition of Black law enforcement organizations noted their commitment to community safety as well as research showing that elderly incarcerated people have low recidivism rates, the high financial cost to society to keep them imprisoned, and sentencing inequities based on race and racial stereotypes.
"A core component of our justice system includes treating people fairly under the law, in this case, Sundiata Acoli, has fulfilled his sentence but the state has not upheld its duty to prove his continued incarceration is either fair or warranted," said Ronald Hampton, Former Executive Director of the National Black Law Enforcement Association. "He has served his time, paid his debt to society, and deserves to be released."
In New Jersey, the burden of proof rests on the state to show that the defendant poses a risk to public safety or presents a substantial risk of recidivism and therefore cannot be eligible for parole.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission has reported a reincarceration rate of just 4% for those age 65 and older. The Justice Policy Institute has studied cohorts of released elderly inmates and found recidivism rates to be -3%.
Over the course of his sentence, Acoli has completed at least 100 different programs for self-improvement and vocational training. He has also participated in numerous programs designed to provide differing perspectives and modify behavior, and taught a cognitive-behavioral course "Criminal Thinking" for eight years, designed to teach other incarcerated individuals how to avoid recidivism upon their release. He has not had a disciplinary infraction in 25 years.
Prior to his incarceration, Sundiata Acoli attended college at the age of 16, majoring in mathematics, was employed as a computer analyst, working for NASA among other organizations, was a member of The Black Panther Party, and was active in voter registration efforts during the 1964 Freedom Summer.
For copies of the briefs along with background information, visit https://sundiataacolifc.org/
About Bring Sundiata Home Alliance
The Bring Sundiata Acoli Home Alliance is a project of the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party to successfully advocate for the release of Sundiata Acoli while educating the public about his legacy of struggle.
About Humanity Communications Collective
Humanity Communications Collective is a boutique, social justice-driven, strategic communications consulting group focused on making human and emotional connections. Learn more about at Humanitycom.com