Sugaya Case: M-J on policing and Japanese jurisprudence


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar

Hi Blog.  Happy Monday.  Big news last week was Sugaya Toshikazu’s acquittal after nearly two decades in prison (see articles below).  It describes well what’s really awry about Japan’s judicial system (primer on that here), which you had better pay attention to because as NJ you’re more likely to be stopped, prosecuted, and convicted in Japan (primer on that here) by the police forces.  

Here’s what the Mainichi had to say last week about the Sugaya Case, followed by an appraisal of the situation by reader M-J.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Man falsely convicted of child murder: ‘I want my own life back’

Toshikazu Sugaya meets reporters at a hotel in Chiba after his release from prison on Thursday afternoon. (Mainichi)     

Toshikazu Sugaya meets reporters at a hotel in Chiba after his release from prison on Thursday afternoon. (Mainichi Shinbun, June 5, 2009)

CHIBA — A man released after 17 1/2 years in detention after recent DNA tests overturned the evidence that convicted him of murder has told reporters that he wants to take his life back.

“I can never forgive the detectives and prosecutors at that time. I want them to apologize to me, and bring my life back to me,” said Toshikazu Sugaya, 62, at a press conference in Chiba on Thursday evening.

Sugaya was arrested in December 1991 and later sentenced to life imprisonment over the killing of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in a ruling that became fixed in 2000. However, recent DNA tests found that Sugaya’s DNA did not match that of bodily fluid on the victim’s clothing, leading prosecutors to conclude that there was a high possibility the new tests proved his innocence.

After being released from Chiba Prison on Thursday afternoon, Sugaya met reporters at a hotel in the city of Chiba shortly before 5 p.m. after spending 17 1/2 years behind bars.

“I am overjoyed (at being released). I am innocent and not the perpetrator,” he said.

Toshikazu Sugaya, right, smiles as he holds a bouquet during a press conference at a hotel in Chiba on Thursday afternoon. (Mainichi)     

Toshikazu Sugaya, right, smiles as he holds a bouquet during a press conference at a hotel in Chiba on Thursday afternoon. (Mainichi)

“I was falsely labeled as the perpetrator, and I have endured it for all these years. I want the detectives and prosecutors at that time to apologize to me,” Sugaya said. “Just saying that they were wrong can’t pay for this. I can never forgive them. I want my own life back.”

He also demanded an apology from the judges that convicted him.

Sugaya recalled how intensively he was grilled by investigators when they visited his home on the morning shortly before his arrest. “You killed the girl, didn’t you?” one of the investigators told him, according to Sugaya.

After his arrest, he underwent a grueling interrogation. “The detectives pulled my hair and kicked me, saying, ‘Confess right away and you’ll feel better.'”

“I told them all day long that I didn’t commit the crime but they didn’t accept my claim. Finally, I ended up being forced to make a confession,” Sugaya said.

When the trial began, Sugaya was so scared at the thought of the detectives who interrogated him might be sitting in the court’s gallery that he was unable to plead not guilty, he said.

Asked about his thoughts about the perpetrator, Sugaya said he cannot forgive the person though the 15-year statute of limitations has expired. “I would like to support those who are suffering from false accusations like me,” he added.

During the press conference, he smiled when he received bouquets from his supporters. Sugaya also expressed his gratitude to his defense lawyers for their support.

“I want to sing karaoke and eat sushi,” he said.

He said he was surprised when he was told by a prison official on Thursday that he was going to be released that day: “I had thought that my release would take some more time.”

Sugaya said he wanted to go back to his hometown of Ashikaga to see his brothers and tell the victim that he was not the culprit. After his arrest, Sugaya’s father died from shock, and his mother passed away two years ago.

When he visits his parents’ graves, he wants to tell them: “Please don’t worry any more, as I am not the perpetrator.”

Commenting on the case on Thursday, Prime Minister Taro Aso said at the Prime Minister’s Office: “He served for 17 years over a crime that he was not guilty of. This kind of thing shouldn’t have happened.”

However, Aso was cautious about the move to introduce the recording and filming of interrogation processes.

“I don’t think making (interrogations) visible would immediately lead to reducing false accusations,” he said.

The Tokyo High Court is highly likely to decide to open a retrial after conferring with both prosecutors and defense lawyers on June 12. If the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office does not file an objection, the retrial will then begin at the Utsunomiya District Court.



Commentary from M-J follows, with his permission:


MJ:  I’ve read comments here and there on the blog from people who don’t believe that the police coerce confessions and use intimidation and strong-arm tactics. However, if Sugaya is telling the truth, it would seem the investigators of his case did exactly that. I suppose it could be argued that police tactics may have changed since the early 90’s, but I highly doubt it.

Man falsely convicted of child murder: ‘I want my own life back’

New DNA evidence wins release for man after 17 years of life term for murder

Aso pleased with improved DNA testing but against recording questioning of suspects

Man jailed for life over 1990 murder of 4-yr-old girl freed after DNA test

The most interesting part for me was Aso’s view of filming interrogations and his quote, “I don’t think making (interrogations) visible would immediately lead to reducing false accusations.” Wow! I’ve never read an article regarding Aso’s reasoning leading to reluctance to film interrogations but I can’t logically come to the same conclusion. Japan obviously has no problem using video technology to deter crime (like the 363 cameras the NPA already operates as well as the 375 cameras they plan to install around elementary schools to prevent crimes against children ) so why not tape something as important as suspect interrogations?

And a side note on the new lay jury B.S.:

Supreme Court says no promise to keep sex crime victims’ names from
jury candidates

It would be humiliating enough for a rape victim in Japan to come forward to press charges and have to deal with the lackadaisical attitude towards rape, but to potentially have your neighbours find out about it may deter more than a few victims i.e. this recent gang rape victim:

Yours, M-J



11 comments on “Sugaya Case: M-J on policing and Japanese jurisprudence

  • let`s talk says:

    And in all those articles no single name of a cop or a judge.Is there going to be any internal investigation? Will the judge keep his job? With the position of Mr.Aso, I am sure everything will be fine for the cops and judges in Sugaya case.
    Just look at the comment in JP (posted at 11:23PM, June 4th, by “overthetwelve”):
    “I can`t believe what my wife just told me.She said that she grew up near that man and when he was arrested it was really big news.She said her father and another witness had told police that it couldn`t have been him, because they had seen him riding his bike in a diffrent part of the town.But the police urged them to be quiet.I hate to think that my father-in-law could have done more to prevent that man from going to prison.”

  • Is not a part of the problem the apparent shielding of the identity of the judge, prosecutors, and especially the police? Will their names come out? If not, then is there any accountability at all?
    How do other countries handle this? I always assumed that at least the judge’s name was standard info in trial accounts in democracies, unless maybe there was some kind of national security issue or threats of organized crime intimidation or something. Exceptional “privacy rights” to those involved in railroading a lone innocent man into jail don’t seem to deserve such protections.
    Hope Mr. Sugaya writes a book and names all the names.

    Saw something on broadcast TV about there having been some kind of error in the early DNA testing methods that could lead to misidentification, which happened in this case, so that a “confession” along with “perfect” DNA evidence using a more primitive method made it an “open-and-shut case” (perhaps it does excuse the judge’s mistake?) but a later paper was published providing a correction factor, which has lead to innocent people being freed (in this case as well, I believe)
    I think it also mentioned that either Mr. Sugaya or another person had to smuggle out his own DNA by ripping out some hairs at the root and enclosing them in a letter to the outside, because the police would not provide a DNA sample to the defense lawyers who eventually proved he was not guilty using the better DNA testing.
    There was also something about the prosecutors and “justice” system rushing an execution in near record time (2 years) seemingly because they knew the improved testing could prove the jailed man innocent. He was put to death 2 months before the new tests proved he was innocent.

  • “I don’t think making (interrogations) visible would immediately lead to reducing false accusations”

    It would, at least, deter the cops from abusing suspects in their custody. Also, if that DID happen, the accused could have some hard proof to lodge a legal complaint against the police if he/she felt they were unfairly abused. I mean, this is just common sense, here. Is Aso really that thick?

    — Aso believes you have to be nice to bureaucrats or they won’t do their jobs… Said so during first Question Time with Hatoyama. Who’s governing whom?

  • Debito how about case of Nigerian (sorry, cannot recall his name) who have been sentenced to 3 years in jail for rape, the crime he didn`t do commit? Is there any chance for justice to do DNA check and retrial him? or Aso meant by saying “It should have never happened” to Japanese?

  • “I don’t think making (interrogations) visible would immediately lead to reducing false accusations,”
    Just in the same way that he clearly doesn’t see anything wrong with the judge having complete authority to include or exclude evidence. The prosecutor too can select whether evidence is worth entering or not…but poor old defence, has no such luxury.

    The criminal justice system here is, well…criminal!

  • There you go with the 95% conviction rate, I wonder how many more people are wrongfully convicted and serving sentences for crimes they never commited. It seems to me that the japanese society praise their collective sense of security (altough an illusion) over the rights of the individual, solve the crime fast and have the society believe that they are safe no matter if an innocent pays the price, that’s just the casualties of the legal system.

    It’s 99.9%.

  • let`s talk says:

    Wow! Incredible thing has happened.They apologized.I do hope it is the first step only.Not only the wrongfully convicted guy must be fully compensated, the whole system must be changed: immediate access to a lawyer, no 23-days in detention center without knowing why you are here, audio and visual recording of questionings, etc.And people who were guilty in this particular case must be punished and dimissed.Forever.

  • Hakamada Iwao is believed to be Japan’s – and the world’s – longest-serving death row inmate. Now aged 73, he has spent 41 years on death row, 28 of these in solitary confinement.

    He was convicted in 1968 of the murder of a family of four, principally on the basis of a confession believed to be extracted under duress, and which he retracted at his trial.

    Of the three judges at that trial, one has stated publicly that he believed Hakamada Iwao was innocent.

    There is a petition here calling for Mr.Hakamada’s retrial and on the government to abolish the daiyo kangoku system of pre-trial detention.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>