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Statement on Death Sentence Given to Minor at the Time of the Crime

Today, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a death sentence given to a boy who was 18 years and 7 months old at the time in February 2010 when he was accused of killing and injuring three people after he had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s residence in an attempt to bring her back in Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture.

He received a death sentence in the court of first instance before Saiban-in (lay judges), which made it the first death sentence handed down on a minor at a Saiban-in (lay judge) trial. Then, the court of second instance upheld the first instance judge's decision. The defense lawyer had called for the lifting of the death sentence insisting that the crime was committed on impulse by reason of his mental immaturity, and there were so many issues to be addressed but full examination had not been conducted.

Regarding the death penalty, the UN General Assembly adopted the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty on December 15, 1989, which entered into force in 1991. Since April 1997, the UN Commission on Human Rights (reorganized into the UN Human Rights Council in 2006) adopted resolutions on the abolition of the death penalty calling upon all States that have not yet abolished the death penalty, such as Japan, to observe the UN Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty and to consider suspending executions, with a view to completely abolishing the death penalty.The UN Human Rights Council recommended in 2014 that Japan should give sufficient consideration on the abolishment of death penalty.

Under these circumstances, the number of countries which have abolished the death penalty has been steadily increasing. Presently, 58 countries, decreasing from 96 countries in 1990, still retain the death penalty, while 140 countries, increasing from 80 countries in 1990, have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice as they have not performed an execution for more than ten years. It is apparent that the international trend is toward the abolishment of the death penalty.

Especially for juveniles, the inherent right to life and the right to grow and develop are guaranteed under Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention), which came into force in 1994 in Japan. In the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) which is cited in the Convention, Item 17.2 stipulates that capital punishment shall not be imposed for any crime committed by juveniles, which are defined in Item 2.2(a) as a child or young person who, under the respective legal systems, may be dealt with for an offence in a manner which is different from an adult.

Accordingly, based on Japanese law defining minors as people under 20 years old, it is expected that the death penalty will not be imposed on juveniles under 20 at the time of the crime notwithstanding an existing law (Article 51-(1) of Juvenile Act) which provides that if a person who is under the age of 18 at the time of committing an offense is to be punished with death penalty, life imprisonment shall be imposed.

From the perspective that a society without the death penalty is desirable, the JFBA has adopted the Declaration Calling for Establishment of Measures for Rehabilitation of Convicted Persons and Cross-Society Discussion on Abolition of the Death Penalty at the 54th JFBA Convention on the Protection of Human Rights in October 7, 2011 to call for consideration of the immediate cessation of the application of the death penalty to juvenile criminals who are under the age of 20 at the time of their crimes.

In particular, considering that juvenile crimes are the result of their immature judgment and personalities formed under the great influence of the environment in which they grow up, for example, disability to control their emotions or insensibility to others' pain developed while growing up with inhumane abuse, we should remember that if the full responsibility for their acts is imposed on juveniles and they are thus sentenced to death, this is clearly not the way in which a fair criminal justice system should function.

Taking the occasion of the judgment delivered today, the JFBA here calls on the government of Japan again to seriously consider the cessation of the application of the death penalty to the juveniles under 20 at the time of crime.

June 16, 2016

Kazuhiro Nakamoto

PresidentJapan Federation of Bar Associations

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