Posted by debito on September 18th, 2007
Hi Blog. I had a message from someone this morning asking if the Idubor Case of incarceration without conviction or evidence was really as bad as all that, or was there something readers just weren’t being told about here? (Read that mail and my reply here.)
Well, rape in general as a crime has a huge window for problems, not the least being the shame and humiliation suffered by the victim, and the general public distaste of the voyeurism involved in hearing all the salacious facts of the case. More on that in a minute.
But couple that with the extraordinary powers of the prosecution within the Japanese judiciary for dealing with criminal suspects (default mode being presumption of guilt), and you have even more potential for miscarriages of justice.
Case in point is Mr Idubor, but he is not alone in his being potentially set up to take the fall by the police.
Here’s a certified example of the Toyama police doing that in another rape case, according to the Asahi Shinbun, May 22, 2007:
Here’s another one, from August 2007, where according to Michael Fox, a scholar of wrongful arrests in Japan, no rape actually occurred. Yet the boys convicted of the nonexistent crime still got a sentence, albeit reduced by the Tokyo High Court:
But it’s not only Japan. Take a look what happened recently at Duke University, where a whole lacrosse team was accused of gang-raping an exotic dancer with a history of telling tall tales. Article courtesy of this week’s The Economist (London), germane portions only included on Debito.org (since the case does not 100% dovetail with the cases I’m archiving here):
Sep 13th 2007
From The Economist print edition
Entire article at http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9804134
ON THE night of March 13th 2006, 47 lacrosse players at Duke University, North Carolina, paid a couple of strippers to entertain them… Ms Mangum alleged that some of the players had beaten and gang-raped her….
The accusation was a transparent lie from the start. Ms Mangum, who had been picked up by the police, brought up the subject of rape only when she was confronted with the possibility of a spell in a mental hospital. She recanted her accusation and then recanted her recantation. She told conflicting stories that numbered her assailants at anything from two to 20. Her co-dancer described her claims as “a crock”. The police who interviewed her on the first night regarded her charges as incredible—and, in truth, she had a long record of alcohol and drug abuse, mental instability and making up far-fetched stories.
Yet, a few weeks later, three of the students were arrested and charged with rape amid the usual media frenzy… On April 6th 2006, 88 faculty members took out a full-page advertisement in the college newspaper condemning the lacrosse players. In April 2007, all charges were dropped.
The case provides a vivid example of the way in which a rogue prosecutor can warp the legal system. “The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” wrote Robert Jackson, one of America’s great attorneys-general, in 1940. “While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.”…
Mr Nifong [the district attorney for Durham County, North Carolina, who prosecuted this case] was clearly one of the worst. But he is not alone: American prosecutors increasingly mimic the win-at-any-cost ethic of defence lawyers. A study by the Centre for Public Integrity in 2003 found that numerous prosecutors had stretched, bent or broken the rules…
…Some people have at least learned from the disaster at Duke. Mr Nifong has been sacked and stripped of his law licence. Last week he was sent to jail, though only for a day, for his numerous misdemeanours. The press has struggled to put the record straight—and several people have written their own mea culpas.
The point is that this is what happens when you give the prosecution too much power. In the Duke University case, fortunately, things snapped back into the realm of justice because public exposure of the case actually caused enough of an outcry to out what actually happened. It is not clear that this would happen in Japan, since the prosecution (police, judge and up until now, no jury–and public access to the accused; no recordings of any interrogations allowed either) holds all the cards, and are extremely rarely called to account for their mistakes under their own system. Further, civil cases brought against the prosecution afterwards don’t deter or provide the correction to a miscarriage of justice either. Can you imagine things snapping back in Japan where the public prosecutor loses his license, or the cops involved get fired? Didn’t happen in the Toyama Case above, for example, and probably won’t.
In Japan, criminal investigation and prosecution is emerging in my mind as essentially winning the lottery in reverse–where instead of by chance winning a million bucks, you by chance get zapped and your life destroyed. Here, if for any reason you fall on the wrong side of the police’s gaze, you can get set up for months (if not years) of incarceration, a tarnished reputation (guilty verdicts in criminal cases, which famously happen 99% of the time, sincerely dent your work possibilities in Japan), and no compensation or redress if it turns out you were right after all.
If you think I’m exaggerating about what the Japanese police get up to, check out this blog:
where Christopher is archiving for posterity news reports about cops gone bad and the system that lets it happen.
Finally, for the sake of balance, let’s also consider what happens when the victim is NOT properly listened to. I listened to NPR this morning while cycling to school on some of the problems with how the police (in the US) do NOT properly pursue rape cases, even when they have DNA evidence from rape kits (boxes containing biological evidence from victims immediately after they report the crime to the police):
NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
FRESH AIR Interviews
Combing ‘Cold Case Files’ With Michael Harvey
Fresh Air from WHYY, August 15, 2007 · Michael Harvey created the A&E cable show Cold Case Files, a documentary series that follows forensic experts and detectives as they investigate long-unsolved murder cases…
QUOTE: “Another issue about sexual assault that was very interesting to me is the backlog of rape kits that we have in this country. I’ve walked into evidence lockers all over this country where there are thousands of rape kits sitting up on the shelf, never been looked at. Massachusetts just last week found 16,000 rape kits, evidence kits, that they didn’t even know that they had… A lot of states just don’t have the money or the manpower to get in and test all of these. That doesn’t help the women who have been sexually assaulted and are waiting for answers. It doesn’t help the fact that these guys may still be out there. In fact, [s]ome of them are for sure. If you have 10,000 rape kits, you definitely have some hits in there. You definitely have some offenders in there who are still out there offending. That is a unique circumstance to me because, there aren’t many times in the criminal justice system where you know you have the answers there. And yet we just don’t have the money and the manpower to dig them out. [And] they’re bulletproof answers, because you know we’re talking about DNA.”
Listen to this story at http://188.8.131.52/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12804965
In any case, rape is a particularly hazardous crime to take on. Assume guilt and people assume the worst did happen. Assume innocence and the victim might not get served by the system properly.
But there’s a good reason why innocence (even, constitutionally, in Japan) is the default assumption–fewer innocents get sent up. Pity Japan’s criminal justice system doesn’t buy into that.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo