Japanese vs. American justice systems

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

Occasionally, I happen upon a description of how other legal systems operate. This, of course, is a never-ending quest of mine to show that the United States’ judiciary system is the best in the world. This week, we’re going to discuss the Japanese criminal courts, and how said courts differ from ours.

In America, one is innocent until proven guilty. The police obtain a warrant, arrest the suspect, interview them (if the suspect doesn’t want to talk, or doesn’t want to talk without an attorney present, that is their constitutional right) and, if there’s enough evidence, the suspect goes on trial.

In Japan, the whole deal is different – in fact, the system is front-loaded, rather than the western way of the trial being the be-all to end-all. In the Japanese system, the investigation is everything. The process guiding this procedure is conducted in a painstaking fashion, at times lasting years. Just about everyone that knows the accused is interviewed. Just about everyone who knows (or knew as the case may be) the victim are interviewed. A confession should be obtained. Rarely does a suspect proceed to trial without a confession – the interviews of individuals on both sides go into the confession to round out a better picture of the accused, the victim and the crime. In short, the Japanese need to know about the motive.

This is a stark contrast to the way the criminal system in the United States works. I remember my first evening in criminal law class. The professor just asked what we thought we needed to know when we first interviewed a potential criminal client. One person in the class responded why the person did the crime. Of course, knowing the answer to that question would screw up the defense for that person, but our professor said that motive for a crime is not important – its whether you can prove all elements of a crime were committed, or on the side of the defense, that at least one of the elements didn’t exist.

Really motive isn’t something anyone looks for on either side of the case – the prosecution doesn’t need it and the defense doesn’t want it. As an aside, I always chuckle at legal shows that make a big deal over motive, or lack thereof. They have all of the pieces, but they just don’t know why, and it bugs the heck out of them. In real life (at least in the good ole U.S. of A), not so much. The why is of very little importance in American jurisprudence.

Another vast difference is that a defendant can purchase their way out of a crime. In the U.S., that seems counter-productive and, quite frankly, unethical. Should a defendant choose, said defendant can make restitution to a victim, and, such monetary consideration would, most likely, either take years off of a suspect’s sentence, or eliminate jail time altogether. As an example, approximately fifteen thousand dollars could knock off a year from a criminal’s sentence. And this can be accomplished without the admission of guilt.

Could you imagine such a system here? That would be completely insane. The media would have a field day with high-profile, wealthy defendants easily avoiding jail time (or a huge amount thereof) by stroking a check. The high and mighty in this country always face allegations of favoritism – especially when it comes to the courts. I guess there would be a more cynical angle that at least now the public is seeing exactly how much it costs to get out of trouble, but, for the most part, I would tend to think the general public would have a very difficult time coming to grips with what most people think of as bribery.

As noted previously, it’s always very interesting (to me, at any rate) to see how other countries handle their judicial systems. In this instance, it appears that the Japanese criminal justice system is worlds apart from the one we have in the US. While their system seems to be more efficient (the conviction rate is somewhere around 98%), it seems to me that a lot of basic rights – to confront your accuser, to be innocent until proven guilty and to have an attorney by your side at all times – are absent, which accounts for that efficiency.

I guess I would rather our system be a little less efficient, then have our rights taken away, wouldn’t you?


Chris Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

Leave a Reply