Fury As Judge Overturns Death Penalty Handed Down By Jury

Does the new Japanese legal system really work?

In 2009, as part of a large-scale judicial reform project in Japan, a lay judge system was introduced to incorporate citizen participation into the criminal trial process. In the lay judge system, randomly selected citizens serve on a panel along with one or more professional judges, and the whole panel conducts an investigation of the evidence at hand. Unlike a traditional jury system, the citizens serving as lay judges are fully involved in the sentencing process, in addition to simply determining guilt or innocence.

Since this system is still very new, unique cases that challenge the limitations of the system continue to emerge, particularly when it comes to situations where the professional judges and lay judges disagree about the verdict and/or the sentencing. In a recent murder case described in the article below, the death penalty sentence handed down by a panel of lay judges has just been overturned by a professional judge in a higher court who has a reputation for indiscriminately overturning death sentences, causing a flood of criticism about the futility of a system where citizens are forced to hand down verdicts, only to have their decisions nullified by professional judges in the end. Although 2ch netizens have varying opinions about whether priority should be given to the experienced judgments of professionals or the intuitive decisions of citizen judges, almost everyone expressed disillusionment and frustration with the new system.

Do you think these are just small flaws in a new system that still has some kinks to work out, or will further revisions of the Japanese judicial system be necessary?

From Sankei News:

The “Logic” of Judge Who Overturned Lay Judges’ “Death Sentence Decision”… Bereaved Families Outraged: “If We Just Follow Precedent on Principle, A Robot Should Make the Judgments”

After leaving her hometown of Inami, Hyogo Prefecture to live in an apartment in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, it was in September 2009, just five months after 21-year-old Ogino Yukari’s college graduation, that her life took a horrifying turn.

After breaking into Ogino’s apartment, Tateyama Tatsumi (53) allegedly killed her by stabbing her in the chest with a knife, then set fire to her room.

In June of 2011, after Tateyama Tatsumi was prosecuted on robbery and murder charges in an initial trial, lay judges in the Chiba District Court handed down a death penalty sentence. It was a sentencing that stressed that fact that he had repeatedly committed other criminal injuries and thefts both before and after the incident in question. However, in a second trial in October of last year, the Tokyo High Court reversed the death sentence, and sentenced Tateyama to life in prison. The reason given was a “trend of precedent” to not give the death sentence in cases of a single unpremeditated murder.

Yukari’s mother Minako (61) was enraged, saying “Even though the lay judges decided on the death penalty after seeing through to the defendant’s true human nature, the specialists overturned the decision based on principles of reputation.

Using the Death Penalty with Particular Caution

There are three examples of lay judges’ death penalty decision being overturned in the past. In all three cases, the same presiding judge in the Tokyo High Court was responsible. Amongst these cases, there was one other case of robbery and murder, and a woman who served as a lay judge in that trial speaks of it with bewilderment.

Because the defense pled innocent at trial, the woman says, “We absolutely had to avoid a mistaken verdict, so we scrutinized even the smallest possibilities,” so the reversing of the lay judges’ decision was a totally unexpected conclusion to the case. “You could say my thoughts came to a halt, or you could say I was dazed… I couldn’t understand anything anymore. I want it to be over already,” she sighed.

Behind the second trial’s allusion to precedent is an awareness that in the case of the death penalty, which can’t be undone once it’s carried out, there should be a particularly cautious investigation on the basis of justice. In July 2012, the Judicial Research and Training Institute of the Supreme Court put out a report with a focus on judge’s sentences in the past. Professional judges accumulated many years of research with the idea of emphasizing the establishment of “standards for applying the death sentence.”

On the other hand, criticism such as “If we just follow precedent on principle, a robot should make the judgements” (Matsumura Tsuneo, Executive Representative of the National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families) have been voiced. If we overturn the death penalty through an automatic process, we may damage the meaning of the lay judge system, which aims to reflect the healthy societal common sense and life intuitions of the people.

Nevertheless, the potential for the high courts to review cases where the final sentence exceeds the sentence recommended by the lay judges has emerged. In a case concerning the death by abuse of a young girl in Neyagawa, Osaka in 2010, the initial trial in the Osaka district court resulted in a sentence of 15 years imprisonment, which was 1.5 times the recommended sentence handed down in favor of the prosecution. The second trial also held up this sentence, but the Supreme Court will open a required hearing for a final review of the case in June.

Along with cases where initial trials resulting in the death penalty are overturned in the setting of an appeal hearing, the Supreme Court’s judgments on this issue are already drawing attention.

No Understanding of the “Tradition of Experience”

Lay judges have also experienced distress when their initial “not guilty” verdict is overturned in a second trial.

In a case where lay judges handed down an innocent verdict in an initial trial in Osaka district court regarding an Iranian man charged with violating the Stimulants Control Law (importing with intent to sell), the second trial in the Osaka high court overturned the initial decision, saying, “This verdict is a factual error which is inconsistent when compared with the tradition of experience.“ This spring, the Supreme Court upheld the findings of the second trial and referred the case back to the district courts for a retrial.

A company worker (58) who served as a lay judge in the case stated, “I’m not familiar with drug cases, and I couldn’t imagine the circumstances. A professional should have been judging the case.“

There are times when lay judges are pressed for a decision in the face of no direct evidence, such as in drug smuggling cases, and there is a firmly rooted demand for exceptions from the lay judge system. According to a top prosecutor: “In these types of cases, it’s unfair to force an ordinary person who doesn’t know the traditions of accumulated experience to make a judgment.

Comments from 2ch.net:


It’s a waste of time. They just decide the sentence with a roll of the dice anyway.


Impossible. If I were one of the jurors I would riot.


Well then, it’s totally meaningless, isn’t it? Let’s quit this stupid system at once.

ボ ラギノール(岡山県)@\(^o^)/:

Lay judge verdicts are a waste of time and effort


If we’re going to imitate our buddy America, why didn’t we imitate them properly? Shouldn’t we just have a jury decide on innocence or guilt, and a professional decide on the sentence?


Seriously just make-believe trials


So what was the purpose of showing them pictures of the dead body and having them deliberate?


In a recent robbery and murder, three people died, but this judge overturned the death penalty – typical, of course he overturned this. No matter how you think about it, it’s like a double yakuman [special mahjong score that allows you to double your points] (´・ω・`)


Is the lay judge system just a game? wwwww


If they’re just going to overturn it, we don’t need lay judges. Why did they make such a screwed up system?


A professional’s judgment should take priority, what are they talking about? w
It’s just that this shows the meaninglessness of the lay judge system.


Having lay judge decisions is fine, but if it’s just going to be a game like this, they should relax the rules about declining to serve as a lay judge.


And what’s the meaning of forcing ordinary citizens to do totally useless labor?


If we just swallowed whole every lay judge decision, then we wouldn’t need professional judges. Lay judges are lay judges. They’re not professional judges. Assholes where if you give them a little power, they immediately misunderstand and get carried away… They’re everywhere.

トペ スイシーダ(やわらか銀行)@\(^o^)/ :

The fact that lay judges are only in district courts, not in the High Court or the Supreme Court, shows that it’s just a game. But these professional judges have horrible reasoning, don’t they?
They say the reason is judicial precedent of the past. But didn’t we create a new system exactly because we want to produce decisions that are different from the judicial precedent? w If the way things have gone up till now are fine, then don’t do these wasteful reforms. The bastards who introduced it should pay the full price.


I can’t believe our precious tax money was used on a system like this. Totally bullshit system where no one wins.


Judges who are below robots?


One scumbag is just doing as he pleases, huh? An extreme bastard like him should be fired.


If this idiot’s whole family where killed, he would immediately change his ways and side with those recommending the death penalty, now wouldn’t he? w


Ahh, this must be Judge Murase Hitoshi of the Tokyo High Court. Google it and see. He seriously only makes infuriating judgments.

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