Does Japan’s legal system force suspects to confess, even if they didn’t commit the crime?
Japan is known for being one of the countries with the lowest crime rate in the world. Numerous reasons are given for this such as the illegality of weapons, a smaller wealth gap, or unspoken rules of conduct that people live by.
But one other factor behind such low crime could have a darker reason to it: fear of the Japanese legal system.
Al Jazeera news recently put out a documentary on that very subject, showing one of the scarier parts of Japan that most people don’t have experience with. Here’s the trailer for the documentary, with the full video and highlights below:
101 East (@AJ101East) October 07, 2016
The documentary follows the story of Keiko Aoki, a woman who in 1995 was convicted of lighting her house on fire and intentionally murdering her daughter to collect life insurance money. Her conviction was based solely on her and her husband’s written confessions that they claimed were made under extreme duress.
Keiko and her husband spent the next 20 years in jail, claiming they were innocent the entire time. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the verdict for their retrial was finally delivered, proclaiming them not guilty.
But why would someone confess to a crime they didn’t commit? Put simply, the documentary claims that the Japanese legal system is designed to extract confessions no matter what.
In Keiko’s case, she was held in an interrogation room with police investigators who constantly yelled and berated her for 12 hours straight. She was never allowed to see a lawyer. Eventually, she was told by police that her husband had already confessed to the crime, so she should too. Mentally destroyed, she gave up and wrote a confession dictated to her by police.
Keiko claims that confusion, exhaustion, and the guilt of not being able to save her daughter came together to make her admit to a crime she was innocent of.
In Japan, anyone can be held by police for 23 days without being charged. Lawyers are not allowed in interrogation rooms, and police are not required to record any of the interrogation sessions. As Hiroshi Ichikawa, a former Japanese prosecutor described, investigators can just rotate in and out as they get tired of questioning the suspect, until he or she is so mentally exhausted that they will admit to anything to make it stop.
But why is the Japanese legal system so intense when it comes to extracting confessions from the accused? Hiroshi claims it’s because there’s immense pressure on police and prosecutors to obtain a guilty verdict. In a country with a near universal conviction rate, no one wants to be the only lawyer who failed to get a guilty verdict, so they’ll do anything to get it.
When it comes to false convictions and innocent people behind bars, Japan is not alone. The U.S. and other developed countries have just as many – if not more – legal problems. But the only way any of them can change is by getting the word out that there is a problem in the first place, and this documentary is a great first step in letting people know that the system that is supposed to serve them is broken.