Monday, July 09, 2007

Japanese coverup

A 40-year-old Toyama Prefecture man who spent 25 months in prison after being wrongfully convicted of rape and attempted rape said before his retrial that he wants more than a simple acquittal. "Just being declared innocent is meaningless," the man said. "I want the retrial to reveal the whole truth."

His false conviction came out when another man confessed to the two crimes. The innocent man has every right to know why he became a victim of such a flagrant judicial error. But disclosing how he was falsely charged and convicted goes far beyond his personal vindication. This is a superb opportunity to shed new light on the structural flaws in Japan's justice system, on how investigations and trials are conducted. Why was this man arrested and then indicted? Early on, he admitted to the charges, but later retracted that admission. Was it impossible to uncover the truth in the trial? The retrial must answer these questions.

However, the Takaoka branch of the Toyama District Court, which originally heard the case, dismissed as "unnecessary" his defense lawyers' demand that a police officer who handled the case be summoned as a witness in the retrial and examined under oath. After the hearing, the prosecutors who had argued that testimony from the police officer was unnecessary, said a trial is a system for determining whether the suspect is guilty or not guilty. "Since both the defense lawyers and prosecutors claim the person is not guilty, examining the police officers as witnesses is pointless," one prosecutor said.

The court and prosecutors seem to think that, as nobody is disputing this man's innocence, all that is needed now is to declare him innocent as soon as possible. That is unacceptable. If the police officer is summoned as a witness, a few inconvenient facts could come to light, fingering the prosecutors and the court for their involvement in this false conviction. Their attitudes inevitably raise suspicion that they are trying to close the case quickly to avoid such revelations.

After the court hearing, the man, whose life was wrecked by that wrongful conviction, issued a statement saying he had lost all faith in the nation's justice system. How do the people working for the justice system view that comment? If the retrial fails to show the reasons behind this false conviction, institutions such as the Supreme Court, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office and the National Police Agency should open their own investigations and make the results public. Otherwise, police investigations and trials will remain tainted by this miscarriage of justice.

Unsolved mysteries remain in the crimes, which took place in 2002. A composite sketch of the suspect led police to the wrongly convicted man. When the rape victim saw him, she reportedly said he bore a strikingly resemblance to the rapist. Did not police lead the victim into saying that?

The man initially denied the charges, but on the third day of his interrogation, he confessed and was arrested. After that, no serious investigation was done into whether the evidence supported the charges. In fact, the man had an alibi: his phone records showed he was talking on the telephone from his home at the time of one of the crimes. His home was more than a 30-minute drive from the crime scene. But police ignored this important evidence.

The man then retracted his confession, and told prosecutors, the judge who questioned him before deciding on his detention, and his lawyer that he was innocent. Later, he again admitted to the charges because, he says, police had forced him to sign a written pledge not to reverse his statements. Police deny the existence of that written pledge.

We need to know the truth. Shouldn't have the fact that the man switched his story back and forth made both prosecutors and lawyers question the story? The citizen judge system will be introduced in 2009. Under this system, juries consisting of trained judges and citizens chosen at random will jointly decide criminal cases. Many citizens want to know why false charges and convictions occur and how to prevent such travesties of justice.

Report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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