Earlier this year, we published an editorial on an Appellate Division decision, State against William Thomas, which overturned a decision of the New Jersey State Parole Board and granted defendant Thomas an adversarial hearing in the trial court where he could be represented by counsel, present witnesses and against – interview state witnesses, no proceedings of which are available at the parole board proceedings. 228 NJLJ 296 (February 7, 2022). Thomas had been incarcerated for 40 years at the time of his hearing, had a perfect criminal record, had participated in multiple therapies and had received a psychological evaluation finding him at low risk of recidivism but had been refused parole on the basis of the facts of the offense (committed when Thomas was a minor) and an alleged lack of sufficient information about his criminal behavior. Based on what we viewed as the parole board’s gross miscarriage of justice, we called its decisions in this case “akin to a puppet court” and advocated a significant overhaul of the parole process to that it provides basic due process rights to defendants seeking parole. or even abolish parole altogether, as the federal system has done.
Now another case has been decided, this time by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, Acoli v. New Jersey State Parole Board, highlighting the same issues. In a 3-2 decision (Chief Justice Rabner did not participate) written by Justice Albin, the court ordered the release of 85-year-old Acoli, who had by then served 49 years in prison despite being eligible for parole after 20 years, after the Parole Board again denied his release.