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August 6, 2009

Jury sentencing system in Japan has lay citizens and judges working together

I noted earlier this week that Japan was conducting its first criminal jury trial in decades and that its new jury system was to include sentencing responsibilities.  This BBC News piece provides a fascinating report on the result of the first trial:

Japan's first jury trial for more than 60 years has ended with a man in his 70s being sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder. The new jury system is the result of a major overhaul of Japan's legal system, aimed at speeding up trials and offering greater transparency.

In the landmark case, six men and women working with three judges convicted and sentenced Katsuyoshi Fujii, 72. Until now Japanese trials have been decided by a panel of judges.

The last time a citizen jury was part of a Japanese trial was in a short-lived experiment before World War II. Since then, the system has been prosecution-led, largely based on confessions and with little emphasis on court testimony....

Fewer people go to jail in Japan than in the West. But the conviction rate -- 99% of all cases -- is astronomic by Western standards, our correspondent adds. Critics say the old system was slow, lacked transparency and was out of touch.

The jury system has also come in for criticism, with some experts arguing that randomly selected members of the public are not fit to decide the outcome of serious criminal cases.

In the new system, the jurors -- who are considered lay judges -- must have the agreement of at least one of three professional judges for their decision to stand. They also decide on the sentencing.

During the four-day trial in Tokyo District Court, the citizen judges questioned the defendant over the fatal stabbing of a 66-year-old neighbour in May. Fujii had pleaded guilty but his lawyers sought leniency in the sentencing.  Murder can result in the death penalty in Japan, although it is rare in cases involving a single victim.

Presiding Judge Yasuhiro Akiba said the jury had sentenced the defendant to 15 years in jail -- one year short of what prosecutors had sought -- because the stabbing was not premeditated. The citizen judges later said it had been difficult to decide on the sentence, but they praised the professional judges, prosecutors and defence team for making their arguments easy to follow.

As I mentioned before, in my recent Sidebar commentary for the Columbia Law Review, I assert that the conceptual and constitutional principles behind the Apprendi-Blakely line of cases justify greater jury involvement in both capital and noncapital sentencing proceedings.  And I especially like the idea that Japan is now pioneering of lay jurors and professional judges working together to decide upon a sentence.

A few follow-up questions for SL&P readers: Should hybrid judge-jury sentencing be worth trying in some American jurisdictions for at least some crimes?  Need a state interested in this new Japanese model have to worry if it was constitutionally kosher in the US?

August 6, 2009 at 02:31 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The Apprendi-Blakely line justify nothing. Only results may justify anything. Where are the data that these decreased the error rate (of convicting innocent defendants?) Should a remedy reduce a harm? If it does not, it is just lawyer make work, devoid of any justification. The Justices of the Supreme Court have no expertise in any area whatsover. They are not even expert judges, all being lawyer amateurs turned judge, without judge training. The sole validation of their awful decisions? Army Airborne. Without coercion at the point of a gun, they would be seen as what they really area, know nothing two year olds, throwing things around for no reason, and messing up our country.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 6, 2009 3:36:22 PM

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Great article. I really enjoyed the insights.
One thing is for sure. This article was written well. I think Japan has a great law system and a great culture

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