Statement on Supreme Court’s Ruling Reinstating an Acquittal in a Saiban-in Trial
On February 13, 2012, the First Petty Bench of the Supreme Court handed down a judgment on a final appeal filed against an appeals court ruling which convicted a defendant by reversing his acquittal in a first instance Saiban-in (lay judge) trial. The Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s judgment of conviction, dismissing the appeal by the prosecutor. This judgment by the Supreme Court reinstated and finalized the defendant’s acquittal, first made in the Saiban-in trial.
In the judgment, the Supreme Court expressed its view that, “In order for an appeals court to judge that there is an error of fact in a decision of a first instance court, the appeals court is required to provide concrete proof that the fact-finding by the first instance court was irrational in terms of the rules of logic, the rule of thumb, and so on. This stance should be more strictly adopted than ever under the situation where the principles of direct and oral trials have been thoroughly applied in the first instance since the introduction of the Saiban-in system.” The Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s judgment and rendered its own judgment of acquittal, stating that, “The court of first instance acquitted the defendant as the evidentiary facts presented were not sufficient to bring about an assumption that the defendant was aware of his possession of illegal drugs and thus the panel was unable to reject his plea. The decision of the appeals court failed to provide satisfactory proof that the first instance ruling was irrational in the light of the rules of logic, the rule of thumb and so on.”
A defendant is presumed to be innocent unless they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and this is one of the fundamental principles of criminal trials. In accordance with this principle, it is extremely inappropriate, in a situation where the panel in which the Saiban-in participated examined the case by means of a thorough, direct and oral trial and judged that the defendant was not guilty as some reasonable doubt still remained, for the appeals court to convict the defendant based on its own belief even though it failed to provide sufficient proof that the initial ruling was irrational under the rules of logic and the rule of thumb. This ruling by the Supreme Court is meaningful as it has corrected such an extremely inadequate stance put forth by the appeals court.
In a situation where a defendant appeals against their conviction handed down by a first instance court, an appeals court must hear the case by returning to the presumption of innocence and from the view point of whether or not there remains any reasonable doubt for judging that the defendant has committed the crime, so as to play its role of securing the fundamental principles of criminal trials.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations will continue making every effort to realize a criminal justice system which respects the fundamental principles of criminal trials and prevents miscarriages of justice from occurring.
February 20, 2012
Japan Federation of Bar Associations