Yomiuri: New “lay judges” in J judiciary strict about demanding evidence from prosecutors, give ‘benefit of doubt’. Well, fancy that.
Posted by debito on July 26th, 2010
Hi Blog. Here’s an article (I can’t find in Japanese) regarding what’s happening in Japan’s “Lay Judge” system (i.e. generally bringing six common folk to sit on Japanese juries as “saiban’in”, with three other real judges offering “legal guidance”, as in, keeping an eye on them). Well, guess what, we have “Runaway Juries”, by Japanese standards! They’re getting in the way of the public prosecutor (who gets his or her way in convicting more than 99.9% of cases brought to Japanese criminal court) and offering acquittals! Well, how outrageous! Given what I know about the Japanese police and how they arrest and detain suspects (particularly if they are existing while foreign), I doubt they are right 99.9% of the time. And it looks like some of the saiban’in would agree. But here’s a lament by the Yomiuri about how those darn lay judges (how belittling; why aren’t they just “jurists”?) are getting in the way. Good. Raise the standard for burden of proof. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Lay judges strict about ‘benefit of doubt’
Mariko Sakai, Takashi Maemura and Mayumi Oshige / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
Yomiuri Jul. 21, 2010, Courtesy of TTB
Three complete or partial acquittals were handed down in lay-judge trials in June and July, in which the principle of giving the benefit of the doubt to defendants in criminal trials was strictly applied. As a result, some prosecutors believe it is becoming harder and harder to persuade lay judges that defendants are guilty.
There have been about 620 rulings rendered in trials involving lay judges since the launch of the system in May last year. Most were guilty rulings, as the facts of the cases were not in dispute. However, June and July saw sentences of not guilty in trials at the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court, Chiba District Court and Tokyo District Court.
Prosecutors have already appealed the sentence in the Chiba District Court case, in which the defendant was indicted on suspicion of smuggling stimulant drugs in three chocolate cans from Malaysia to Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture.
This is the first appeal to be filed involving a lay judge trial.
In a case of arson, trespassing and theft tried at the Tokyo District Court, the prosecution has decided to appeal the ruling to a high court. The defendant was sentenced to 18 months in prison for trespassing and theft but acquitted of arson.
In both of these cases, prosecutors did not have confessions from the defendants or strong material evidence, and thus tried to prove the defendants’ guilt with circumstantial evidence.
According to lawyer Koshi Murakami, a former division chief of the Tokyo High Court, the sentences of not guilty were handed down in these cases due to professional judges and lay judges’ different understanding of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard for deciding whether a defendant is guilty.
“Even if they doubt a piece of circumstantial evidence, professional judges decide whether a defendant is guilty after a comprehensive review of other pieces of evidence,” Murakami said. “However, lay judges may consider a not guilty decision if they are suspicious of even one piece of evidence.”
The ruling in the Tokyo District Court case says there is a strong possibility the defendant committed the arson. However, a great deal of weight was given to the fact that there was a window of about five hours and 20 minutes in which the fire could have been set to the victim’s residence, and therefore it cannot be denied that a third person could have committed that crime.
In the smuggling case at the Chiba District Court, the ruling says, “The court acknowledges as a fact that the defendant thought the cans he received in Malaysia might have contained drugs.”
However, it also says, “It is going too far to say that he must have known the actual content of the cans,” focusing on the fact that the defendant agreed to a customs official’s demand for an X-ray inspection of the cans, among other things.
Given this tendency, a senior prosecution official said, “Prosecutors need to not only explain each piece of evidence at trials, but also persuade lay judges to decide guilty or not guilty based on the whole picture of material and circumstantial evidence.”
Selection of evidence
These three not-guilty rulings have senior prosecutors increasingly worried that the bar for achieving convictions in lay judge trials has been raised, according to a senior prosecution official.
The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office has begun studying what points lay judges consider important, and certain issues have already come to light.
In the Tachikawa case, which involved fraud and robbery resulting in injuries, the defendant was indicted on suspicion of robbing three women with a friend on separate occasions, injuring one woman seriously and buying a bracelet with a credit card they stole. He was convicted of the robberies, but acquitted of the fraud.
During the trial, the prosecution did not submit as evidence a security video that recorded conversations between a shop clerk and the defendant and his accomplice.
The prosecution decided it was unnecessary to submit the videotape and did not preserve it because of the consistent statements given by the defendant, the accomplice and the clerk in the course of the investigation.
However, one of the trial’s lay judges criticized the prosecution for its choice.
“I felt the prosecution was overly optimistic not submitting the security video record, which is very objective evidence,” said company employee Nanako Sugawara, 62.
“From now on, objective pieces of evidence such as video tapes must be preserved until all hearings related to a case are finished,” a senior official at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said, reflecting on the trial. “We have to improve our investigation methods so that we can prove our allegations regardless of who is chosen as lay judges.”
A man who was a lay judge at the Chiba District Court case had some advice for the prosecution.
“I felt the reward of 300,000 yen [the defendant was promised for transporting the drugs] was rather small. Prosecutors should have explained more about the standard rewards for drug mules,” he said.
A veteran judge said: “Prosecutors are choosing evidence based on standards like those they used for trials handled only by professional judges. They should reexamine their methods so they don’t overlook evidence that would particularly appeal to lay judges.”