Testing Japan’s Convictions: The Lay Judge System and the Rights of Criminal Defendants

Japan has endured considerable international and domestic criticism over the way its criminal justice system treats criminal defendants.  The system shows little regard for defendants’ constitutional rights, and media reports about forced confessions and wrongful convictions are creating grassroots pressures to uphold the right to counsel, the right to silence, and the presumption of innocence.

Japan has begun to reform its legal system in order to increase public participation in government, and to create more public trust in the justice system.   To achieve these aims, Japan will reintroduce jury trials in May of 2009.  However, current Japanese justice reforms ignore police practices and specifically reject the promotion of defendants’ rights.

As a result, current reforms are unlikely to achieve their ambitious goals.  Instead, they may trigger a governmental legitimacy crisis.  Japan must modify its criminal procedures so that they agree with the constitutional rights of criminal defendants if it truly hopes to increase participation in government and to instill faith in the justice system.

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