Statement on Acquittal in the Retrial of the Ashikaga Case
Today, the Utsunomiya District Court acquitted Mr. Toshikazu Sugaya in his retrial.
The decision pointed out the inaccurate result of the original DNA test and the illegality of the interrogations conducted by public prosecutors after Mr. Sugaya’s indictment. It also stated that the confession of Mr. Sugaya was not credible at all and apparently false. Presiding Judge Masaharu Sato apologized to Mr. Sugaya saying “the courts did not adequately listen to Mr. Sugaya’s voice of the truth and deprived him of his freedom for the long period of seventeen and a half years. As a judge heard this case, I deeply apologize to him.” The Presiding Judge also promised that he would keep Mr. Sugaya’s thoughts deeply in his mind.
The Ashikaga case revealed multiple integral problems such as the fact that investigating authorities and the courts could not examine the case properly because they placed too much confidence in the result of the original DNA test and over-depended on Mr. Sugaya’s confessions. The courts’ unscientific attitude to reject retesting DNA for a long time was also problematic.
In order to correct these problems:
- The transparency of interrogations, i.e., visual recording of the entire process of interrogations, is indispensable in order to prevent involuntary or false confessions. It is regrettable, however, that we are still far from its realization. Today’s ruling taught that visual recording of interrogations should be immediately implemented.
- For those who are claiming their innocence, the right to have an immediate and appropriate DNA test conducted on evidential materials which have been properly stored should be guaranteed.
- Prior to rendering the decision, the Presiding Judge stated that, “Recognizing the unrepairable miscarriage of justice in this case, I reaffirmed my commitment not to repeat the same error.” Based on this regret of the court, a third-party body should be immediately set up in order to thoroughly investigate the cause behind the miscarriage of justice.
In response to today’s decision, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), as an organization with a pivotal role in the administration of justice, also feels keenly its responsibility for this miscarriage of justice. Contemplating the physical and mental hardships experienced by Mr. Sugaya as he proclaimed his innocence during his unjust detention lasting more than 17 years, we reiterate our commitment to provide the utmost support for those who are suffering from miscarriages of justice.
The JFBA sincerely hopes that Mr. Sugaya who struggled with painful and bitter experiences will lead a peaceful and happy life in the future.
Japan Federation of Bar Associations