Wrongful Arrests and Convictions in Japan
Some Frequently Asked Questions
Can I write to defendants?
--Yes, with the exception of those on death row. Writing to a defendant is a wonderful way to show support, an act that is greatly appreciated.
Can I visit defendants?
--Yes, those whose convictions have not been confirmed may be visited. "Not confirmed" usually means that the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the case. Once the Supreme Court rules, the defendant officially becomes a prisoner and is transferred from a detention center to a prison to perform labor. In principle, prisons may be visited only by immediate family.
Can I attend trials?
--Yes, anyone can attend court in Japan. You simply walk into the courtroom. For well publicized trials, especially when the decision is handed down, a lottery will be held to determine seating.
Why do so many people confess if they are innocent?
--The police frequently intimidate and physically abuse suspects, and make threats with the death penalty. Suspects may be held for 23 days in police stations and interrogated at will from morning to night.
After arrest, lawyers are only allowed to meet suspects for limited amounts of time. Confessions are usually the the result of coercion. Judges believe that in order to create an omelet, it is necessary to crack a few eggs.
Does Japan have a death penalty?
--Yes, it does. The condemned are hung on the gallows.
How does Japan's death penalty affect the criminal justice system?
--The death penalty is used to threaten suspects into making confessions.
Is it true that trials take years and years?
--Yes. Especially when suspects assert their innocence. The court may convene for only two or three hours a month, and so a complicated case may take five years to try. This system has been revised and a new system for speeding up trials has been implemented
What percent of defendants are convicted?
--From 1991 to 2000, over 99% of defendants were convicted
What are the corresponding rates for other countries?
--In the USA, when defendants contest their innocence, the average is about 80%. In Britain, the rate is about 75%.
Why are the rates so high?
There are two reasons:
--Judges and prosecutors are both employees of the Ministry of Justice. Judges assume their posts immediately after passing the shihou shiken and completing 18 month apprenticeships under the guidance of the Supreme Court. The vast majority have never worked as lawyers. Judges and prosecutors view themselves as part of the same group. In-group vs out-group dynamics define the sociology of Japan. Attorneys on the other hand are privately employed, and viewed with suspicion as outsiders.
--The judiciary is controlled bureacratically from top to bottom. Judges who write their conscience may be subject to sanctions. The most common form of sanction is transfer to an outlying rural area.
Who pays for the lawyers?
--All defendants in all cases listed by JIADEP are represented by attorneys working (pro bono )voluntarily. In many cases, attorneys even use their own money to hire experts to carry out technical tests and write expert opinions. Most defendants have support associations who spend precious hours in an effort to raise both awareness and funds.
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