Criminal Justice in Japan by stellaswings


									The criminal justice system in Japan has changed form numerous times and in many ways throughout its long history. The Japanese are known for taking ideas and examples from other countries and working them into the systems of Japan. Many traditions and legal practices were completely changed in the aftermath of World War II, when General Douglas MacArthur pioneered the reconstruction of Japan and its legal system. Much of the new constitution was influenced by U.S. ideas of liberal democracy, which were very different from the previous practices of Japan. Values and beliefs in the United States were and still are very different from the citizens of Japan, which created discrepancies in the way the new constitution was written and the way it was actually carried out. The constitution does contain provisions to help protect those accused of crimes, but these are often ignored in practice. This is a focal point for promoting changes that are currently happening to the system in Japan.

Increase in punitive punishment According to the article “The politics of increasing punitiveness and the rising populism in Japanese criminal justice policy,” recent changes in the criminal justice system in Japan include a shift toward more punitive results and harsher types of punishment. In 2000, three changes were made to laws that began a pattern of strict guidelines. Juvenile laws were amended to change the age limit for a regular criminal penalty from 16 to 14, any crimes by

juveniles older than 16 have to be sent back to the prosecutor (if the crime had resulted in another’s death), and harsher punishments became available for juveniles. Another example of harsher punishments is an amendment in 2001 to criminal code for drunk driving that resulted in death, which could result in 15 years of prison. There are several other proposals that have added amendments to criminal codes and some are still in the works to obtain stricter punishments for various types of crimes. Miyazawa explains the trend toward punitive justice: Highly shocking crimes, such as the murder by beheading by a young juvenile, attracted public attention, and crime suddenly became a salient social issue despite stable crime rates. Members of the public, now effectively represented by the organized victims’ movement, expressed their loss of confidence in the government’s capacity to protect them and rapidly began to demand genbatsuka. Such demand has attracted the attention of elected government officials, who have in turn rapidly expanded the state’s investigative, prosecutorial, and sentencing powers. As a result, affected state agents, particularly police and prosecutors, now embrace such demand; these agents embrace as well the organized victims’ movement, which justifies their expanded power. (Miyazawa 2008:74)

The Death Penalty and Treatment of Suspects Japan has a very high conviction rate of 99% of trials brought to court, and also has a high rate of executions. The death-penalty system is very secretive, and even prisoners are not told when they are scheduled to be executed. People outside the criminal justice system are not allowed to view executions, and families of prisoners are not given notice. It wasn't until several years ago that the Japanese government agreed to disclose the dates and number of executions. The death penalty is particularly dangerous in Japan, for several reasons. First of all is the re-introduction of lay judges who will also have the power to determine the sentence of convicted criminals. This essentially puts the decision of life and death in the hands of randomly

chosen citizens. Secondly, Japan is known for obtaining confessions in unethical ways, sometimes when the suspect is innocent. Interrogations of accused can last for 23 days before the person is actually charged with the crime. During this time the accused is held, usually in a jail cell and various methods are used to elicit a confession and further evidence supporting the confession. Some victims have been subject to brutal questioning that lasts for hours at a time, meant to produce a confession. They may be denied access to a lawyer, or even food and water. This leads to false admission of guilt and since confessions are relied upon heavily as evidence for a conviction in the Japanese system, innocent people have ended up in prison. Suspects are not presumed innocent, and can be tried again even after being acquitted of a crime.

Bringing Back the Jury Beginning in May 2009 Japan is bringing back a jury system, for the first time since WWII. Panels consisting of six lay jurors, (saiban-in), and three professional judges will hear serious criminal cases, including rape and murder cases. These citizens will also help determine the sentence of the convicted person. Lay judges will also be able to ask questions of victims, witnesses and defendants during trial. The new system will allow citizens to have a voice in the criminal justice system, which currently does not happen at all. This change should help to reduce the problems Japan has with wrongful convictions, forced confessions, and hidden evidence. However, this is a big change for Japanese citizens, who are not necessarily supportive of the idea. So far it appears that the citizens do not want to serve on a jury, which may be in part due to cultural tendencies to not express opinions or argue with each other.

They may be more fearful of retaliation by the defendant, or do not want to spend their time working on the trials. There are already many other criticisms of the new system, and it has not even taken effect yet. Some feel it will not really change anything at all. “Some critics argue that because Japanese police practices have not been included in reform proposals, the lay judge system is actually a meaningless facade that will not significantly change Japanese criminal justice.” (Soldwedel 2008)

Comfort Women Some historical events in Japan help shed light on certain aspects of the current criminal justice system. Before and during WWII, Japan developed a sexual slavery system that utilized “comfort women” to provide sexual services for soldiers. Comfort women were mostly Korean women who were abducted and enslaved in houses near military bases where they were kept to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. Beatings, rape and murder were frequent occurrences in these houses, and many of these women did not survive. The women were subject to strict rules and frequent medical exams. During the war, the women were shipped around Asia, labeled as supplies for the men. When Japan was defeated and occupied by allied soldiers, the comfort stations were opened to U.S. troops. The U.S. military also asked for more of these comfort stations to be built. Many of the comfort women have recently come forth to tell their horrific stories and demand justice. This is an important ongoing issue, and even though some of the victims filed a suit against the Japanese government, not much has been done to compensate them. The Japanese government did finally admit to wrongdoing but will not take responsibility to pay the

victims, even though some organizations have called on the government to apologize, compensate the victims, and correct the Japanese textbooks to accurately depict the history of sexual slavery.

Article 9 There is currently a heated debate in Japan regarding Article 9 of the constitution. This article states that Japan cannot maintain military forces, and cannot use war as a way to solve international disputes. The Diet (parliament) established the Self Defense Forces in 1954, but the organization is not to be considered military at all. The debate is over revisions to the constitution that would allow for Japan to maintain military forces, and the public is divided on the issue. Some citizens feel they must preserve the current article in order to maintain and promote peace. Others deem it necessary for a country to have a military in order to properly defend itself. The defense forces have been sent on peacekeeping operations with the UN to Mozambique and Cambodia, a decision by the Diet which has encountered opposition from other parties. Troops have also been sent to Iraq to assist U.S. troops, which is considered illegal by some because of article 9. Although Japan’s constitution was written by the United States, the U.S. is now encouraging Japan to create a stronger military. Japan has many difficult obstacles to face in improving their criminal justice system. Fueled by criticism from other countries and calls of human rights violations from the UN and

organizations such as Amnesty International, many leaders in the country have began to try and make changes. Although Japan should not try to completely revolutionize the system to mimic other countries, they can take aspects from successful systems and shape them to fit into Japanese culture.


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