PROBLEMS WITH THE JAPANESE LEGAL SYSTEM: FORCED CONFESSIONS, LACK OF AUTOPSIES AND WRONGFUL IMPRISONMENT

INTERROGATIONS AND FORCED CONFESSIONS IN JAPAN

Police are allowed to detain suspects for a maximum 23 days without being charged after an arrest. After they are set free the police can re-arrest suspects keep them an additional 23 days each time they are re-arrested. Police use detainment, psychological pressure but not violence as a means of coercing confessions. Using torture to extract confessions has been outlawed since 1874, with the exception of "unavoidable cases."

As it stands now interrogations are usually conducted behind closed doors and a report of the interrogations is given to the chief investigator by the officer in charge of the interrogation. Police rely so much on interrogation because the are not give the authority ro carry out activities used in other countries such as plea bargaining, wire tapping and stung operations.

Detained suspects are kept in small holding cells known as daiyo kangoku (substitute prisons) with little exposure to the outside world. Suspects can be questioned at any time, for any length of time, without food , breaks or a lawyer. Suspects have said they been subjected to 12-hour interrogations in which they were handcuffed and tied to their chairs. A Japanese lawyers group have called the set up “a breeding ground of confession coercion and false accusations” where suspects are subject to a “type of interrogation” that “causes heavy mental suffering...and can be considered torture.”

In one case twelve defendants accused of using beer and cash to buy votes were told they and their children would be fired from the jobs unless they confessed. One defendant was held for a total of 395 days. Another was so intimidated by the process he tried to drown himself. The 12 were acquitted even though six confessed, with the judge ruling they probably confessed “to please the investigators, as they desperately wanted to be released.”

See Wrongful Convictions Below.

Reforming Interrogation Procedures in Japan

There is currently an effort to introduce sound and video recording to the interrogation procedure. In April 2008, confessions and interrogations were recorded on video and audio tape for the first time on a trial basis.

After new guidelines go into affect the interrogation process in Japan will be more like what you see on American television crime dramas. The interrogations will be recorded on video and audio tape and will be monitored by a supervising officer who stands behind a one-way mirror. The interrogators gives his report to the chef investor and then gives the report to officer supervising the interrogations and he submits the report to prefectural police headquarters.

The National Police Agency (NPA) strongly objects to the recording of interrogations, arguing they might make suspects reluctant to confess. The NPA is also against lawyers being present during interrogations. Katsuhiko Nishijima, a Tokyo human rights lawyer, told the Los Angeles Times, “the police argue that videotaping the interviews and allowing lawyers would destroy the necessary trust between police and suspect.”

Coerced Confessions and Wrongful Imprisoning

In January 2007 it was revealed that a man in Toyama sentenced to jail for three years for rape and attempted rape in 2002 had been wrongly accused and found guilty. The mistake was revealed when the real perpetrator of the crimes confessed. The wrongfully-accused man---Horoshi Yanagihara--- was found guilty even though he had an alibi; his footprints didn’t fit the footprints found at the scene of the crime; and there was no physical evidence to convict him. The conviction was based on a forced confession obtained after three days of questions and his likeness to a composite sketch drawn by victims. By the time the truth had come to light the accused man had already finished his sentence.

After being detained Yanagihara was subject to intense interrogation. “I was allowed to say only “yes” during the interrogations,” he told Kyodo news, “I couldn’t say “no,” or that’s not true” in front of the investigators , who maintained a threatening attitude even though they didn’t actually behave violent.” Yanagihara’s lawyer advised him not to appeal. After the real perpetrator of the crimes was arrested Yanahihara was acquitted in a retrial after he spent 1,005 days in prison and was released on parole.

A 2008 human rights report by the U.S. State Department said that procedures in Japanese criminal courts serve the interests of prosecutors not defendants and used the Toyama case to make its point. The report also pointed out that while defense lawyers are promised to all accused “a significant number of defendants reported that this access was insufficient.”

An innocent man, falsely accused of orchestrating a sarin gas attack, said that even though there was little evidence against him, he was presumed guilty and flooded with hate mail and crank calls. He said interrogating officers "pointed at me and thundered, 'You are the culprit! Don't you feel remorse for all the people who died?" A man who was spent 31 years on death row said he beaten by police to make a false confession that he raped and murdered a schoolgirl.

In the wake of these cases and other acquittals on the ground of inappropriate police questioning new guidelines were drawn up for to supervise and monitor interrogations. The guidelines include prohibiting interrogators from making physical contact with suspects, using words and actions that make suspects feel anxious, making promises for some kind of favor, and using words or action that can seriously harm the suspects dignity. Such actions in the past led to forced confessions by defendants who were eventually acquitted.

Coerced Confession, Murder and the Wrong Guy in Japan

In June 2009, a man was released from prison after being there for 17 years on a life-in-prison term when it was determined that he was most likely innocent of the crime he was charged with: the murder of a 4-year-old girl in Askuga, Tochigi Prefecture in 1990. The man, Toshikazu Sugaya, was imprisoned based on DNA testing and a confession. The DNA test used in 1990 turned out to wrong when compared with newer, more accurate testing that showed irrefutably that his DNA did not the DNA of fluids found on the victim.

After he was released, Sugaya said, “I confessed out of despair.” the interrogators “came in unannounced and pressed me, accusing me of murdering the child. They showed me the girl’s photograph and told me to apologize. It was night. I was exhausted and began to feel that if I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t be able to go home.” After 13 hours he said he broke down. “The detective seemed to think I’d done it because I cried...But in fact I cried because I was upset they wouldn’t listen no matter how many times I told them I didn’t do it.” Later he said he confessed in part because “I hate offending people.” After he was released, Sugaya demanded an apology from police and prosecutors.

In an exchange with prosecutors that led to a false confession of a murder of a 4-year-old girl by Toshikazu Sugaya that resulted to him serving 17 years of a life sentence, Sugaya initially insisted, “I didn’t do it.” The next day the prosecutor told Sugaya the DNA from the semen found on the dead girl’s shirt matched Sugaya’s. Adding “How many people are there who the same semen as you?” [Source: from tape recording of interrogations, published in the Daily Yomiuri, October 2009]

The prosecutor, who also questioned him in court, carried out these interrogations behind closed doors. The prosecutor said, “You’re trying to trick me, aren’t you? Why don’t you look me in they eye when you speak?” After further pressure, Sugaya started to cry loudly and made the confession, saying: “Please give me a break. I’m sorry.” The prosecutor then said; “When you taken someone’s life, you have to face up to it. Otherwise you’re no good as a human being.” Sugaya said, “I understand.”

A retrial was held for Sugaya in early 2010, It ended with an acquittal and a public apology from prosecutors. In September 2010, Sugaya filed a petition for ¥80 million in state compensation for mental distress he suffered during the 17½ years he spent in prison. He said, “I was forced to make a false confession, lost my job and lived a painful life in prison. The distress I suffered is beyond imagination.”

Other Cases of Coerced Confession, Murder and the Wrong Guy

Other serious misuses of the justice system have occurred. Iwao Hakamada, a former pro boxer, was found guilty of the stabbing deaths of a family of four in 1966 even though the evidence against him was flimsy at best. The clothes prosecutors claim he wore didn’t fit; the knife the prosecutors said he used was too small to inflict the wounds; and they doors he reportedly used were locked. Hakamada was convicted and sentenced to death based solely on a confession that Hakamada insisted from the beginning was coerced, saying he was threatened and beaten during an interrogation that lasted over 22 days in a police detention cell with no lawyer present.

In 2007, one of the three judged that presided over the case broke his silence and said he believed that Hakamada’s confession was coerced, The former judge said. “I knew right away that something was wrong with the confession...I have always regretted that I couldn’t persuade the chief judge to acquit. He was older than me, and I thought because he had experienced the era when freedoms were taken or oppressed that he would understand what had happened o Hakamada.”

In his trial Hakamada said he endured interrogation session that lasted for 12 hours and was forced to use a portable toilet in the interrogation room. He said police threatened to interrogate his mother and brothers unless he confessed. On the 21st day he said he was dizzy, feverish and said he only wanted to rest. Begging for a break, he offered to confess “in the afternoon” if they would just allow him to talk a break. He said police came in with a documents labeled “confession” and beat him ito signing it.

Hakamada said he never read it. “I wanted silence and had a headache so just wrote down my name and put my head down on the table.” The former judge said he was persuaded by Hakamada’s testimony and was even prepared a thick “not guilty” ruling but the other two judges ordered him to rewrite the ruling and rule Hakamada as guilty. As of 2007, Hakamada had spent 28 year in solitary confinement on death row. He has refused to see family or lawyers and is said to be suffering from dementia. Working on his behalf are a team of lawyers and 12 former boxing champions.

In April 2010, it was revealed that Masaru Okunishi---an 84-year-old man given a death sentenced after being convicted of killing five women with pesticide-laced wine in 1962--- was likely innocent when it was found that the wine was not laced with the pesticide he is alleged to have used. The conviction was based on a “confession” although Okunishi steadfastly denied he committed the crime. He had been on death row since 1972.

One mentally-impaired homeless man spent 31 years on death row after being coerced to submit a confession for murder of schoolchildren he did not commit. One of those on death row in 2006 was Masaru Okunishi, an 80-year-old man convicted of murdering five women with poisoned wine in 1961, a crime he has consistently denied doing. His confession he said was forced.

Sakae Menda was sentenced for his reputed involvements in a robbery murder in Kumamoto Prefecture on 1948. His death sentenced finalized in 1952. He sent more than 30 years on death row before becoming the first death row inmate in Japan to be acquitted in a real trial. In another case, Yukio Saito was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death based in part on evidence fabricated by the prosecution. In a retrial in July 1984 he was found not guilty and released. It was s the third not-guilty retrial ruling for cases involving the death penalty since World War II.

Two Men Who Spent 30 Years in Jail Acquitted of Murder

Shoji Sakurai and Takeo Sugiyama---two men sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of murdering and robbing a carpenter in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1967---have insisted they are not guilty. Both were paroled in 1996 but have since demanded a retrial that took place in 2010. In a court hearing for the retrial their lawyer said, “We are innocent. We did not commit the crime. Most of the blame for our wrongful convictions ...should be placed on the prosecutors who concealed evidence...Its too late for regrets but for the last 43 years I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how I let myself be forced to make a false confession.”

In May 2011, Kyodo reported: “Two men were acquitted after serving nearly 30 years in prison for a 1967 murder and robbery. The Tsuchiura branch of the Mito District Court delivered the verdicts of not guilty to Shoji Sakurai and Takao Sugiyama, both 64, who were sentenced to life in prison in 1970 for the robbery and murder of Shoten Tamamura, a 62-year-old carpenter. [Source: Kyodo, May 24, 2011]

Sakurai and Sugiyama were freed on parole in 1996. Presiding Judge Daisuke Kanda said in the decision that there was no objective evidence to link the men to the crime, noting that hairs and fingerprints detected at the crime scene didn't match them. Kanda also said witness accounts placing the two men at the victim's home lacked credibility. It is the seventh postwar case involving an acquittal in a retrial of defendants sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

The two were arrested in October 1967, indicted that December and sentenced to life in October 1970 over the so-called Fukawa murder case, named after the crime site in the town of Tone, Ibaraki Prefecture. Their lawyers a tape recording of investigators interrogating Sakurai and argued that the tape had been edited. The defense also contended that investigators coerced Sakurai into confessing. A 78-year-old woman, who saw a man at the crime scene, testified at the retrial that the man was not Sugiyama.

During the original trial, the two pleaded innocent, arguing that police investigators had forced them to confess. But the district court's Tsuchiura branch, citing their confessions and witness accounts, found them guilty and sentenced them to life in October 1970. The decision was upheld by the Tokyo High Court in 1973 and later by the Supreme Court in 1978. They were released on parole in November 1996.

The two first filed for a retrial in 1983 while in prison but were rejected. They filed for a retrial a second time in 2001 after being freed. In September 2005, the district court's Tsuchiura branch accepted the petition and decided to launch a retrialn’t a decision upheld by the Tokyo High Court in July 2008 and then by the top court in December 2009. In the retrial, prosecutors again sought life for both of them, arguing they had confessed voluntarily and their depositions were credible.

Nepalese Man Jailed for 15 Years for a Murder he Did Not Commit

In June 2012, Kyodo reported: “Govinda Prasad Mainali was released after 15 years behind bars for the 1997 murder of a woman in Tokyo for which he now looks to be exonerated. "The 15 years cannot be regained and I want to get on with the rest of my life," Mainali was quoted as saying by his lawyer. His comments came after a decision by the Tokyo High Court to reopen the high-profile murder case in which Mainali was sentenced to life in prison, because evidence indicates another man committed the slaying. Mainali flew to Nepal soon afterwards. [Source: Kyodo, June 9, 2012]

A former restaurant worker in Japan, Mainali had been found guilty and was given a life sentence in the 1997 robbery and murder of a female Tokyo Electric Power Co. employee. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “On March 19, 1997, a 39-year-old managerial employee at TEPCO was found dead in an apartment in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. Two months later, Mainali, who lived in a building adjacent to the apartment, was arrested. The guilty ruling finalized by the Supreme Court said Mainali strangled the woman at around midnight on March 8 and robbed her of about 40,000 in cash. The finalized conviction said Mainali was guilty because his DNA was detected in semen left on a condom found in the toilet of the apartment and he also had a key to the place. Throughout the trials, Mainali denied the charge. The Tokyo District Court first handed down a not guilty ruling in April 2000. Following an appeal, the Tokyo High Court overturned the decision and ruled that he was guilty and sentenced him to life in prison in December that year. The guilty ruling was finalized at the Supreme Court in 2003. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 8, 2012]

Mainali filed a plea with the high court for a retrial in 2005. In the retrial in that concluded in November 2012 Mainali was acquitted of the crime based on a new analysis that showed the DNA of semen found in the victim's body did not match that of Mainali but did match the DNA of body hair collected at the vacant apartment where the woman, an employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co., was murdered, indicating another man was the killer.

In November 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Mainali's acquittal was finalized in the retrial after the prosecution abandoned its right to appeal to the Supreme Court. "It is likely that the culprit [in the murder] is a different person," presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa said. "There is a reasonable doubt that stands in the way of concluding that the defendant committed the crime.” In DNA analysis conducted after the demand for a retrial, the DNA of an unknown person, dubbed "X," was found in sperm in the victim's body, body hair left at the scene of the crime, a bloodstain on the victim's coat and a substance found under her fingernails. Citing the DNA analysis, the high court said there is a "strong possibility" X killed the woman, which was more assertive than the language in the decision to start the retrial. The high court ruling said there is a possibility that "X beat the woman and choked her to death after having sex with her," and that while being choked to death, the woman "grabbed X's hands and tried to break his grip with all her might." However, the ruling did not refer to the problems of the investigation and past trials. It also did not include an apology to Mainali, 46. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 8, 2012]

In December 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Mainali sought 68 million yen in compensation for the 15 years he spent behind bars. The Criminal Compensation Law allows a person who has been wrongly imprisoned to seek compensation from the government. The amount varies between 1,000 yen and 12,500 yen a day, depending on the number of days served and other factors. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 31, 2012]

Teenager Charged with a Cybercrime He Didn’t Commit Based on Coerced Confession

In July 2012, a 19-year-old boy was arrested by the Kanagawa prefectural police and later put on probation on suspicion of posting a threat using his computer to attack a primary school on the Yokohama municipal government's website. It turned however the boy’s computer had been commandeered by a third party who issued the threat. Later prefectural police admitted they wrongly arrested the boy and offered him an apology. The prosecutors office also apologized. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. October 21, 2012]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “According to the sources, the boy initially denied the allegation that he posted a threat on the Yokohama municipal government website during the questioning conducted on a voluntary basis. But a couple of days after his arrest he reportedly gave written statements confessing to the allegations. The next day, however, he again denied the charges. Then, during interrogations by the Yokohama District Public Prosecutors Office, boy again admitted to the allegation. The prosecutors office compiled the report of his confession. [Ibid]

In the statements, the boy noted his supposed motivation for the threat, saying: "I saw something lively inside the students that doesn't exist inside me. I wanted to cause trouble for them." s to why he chose a primary school as the target of his attack, the statements said he found the name of the school on the top of a web page when he searched the Internet with two unknown key words. [Ibid]

The boy was quoted as saying, "I admitted to the allegation even though I didn't commit the crime, because the police told me just before the detention time limit that 'the charge would be lessened if I admitted to the crime.'" This led the investigative authorities to suspect the boy was induced to make false confessions, the sources said. [Ibid]

In a similar case the Metropolitan Police Department concluded it had wrongly arrested a 28-year-old man suspected of sending online threats to a Tokyo kindergarten and other places after a 6½ hour questioning session. The unemployed Fukuoka man reportedly told police that he downloaded a program from 2channel online forum on Aug. 26. The next day, online threats were sent to the kindergarten affiliated with Ochanomizu University in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, and others, according to a senior MPD official. The MPD found a record of the download on the man's personal computer, the official said. [Ibid]

Prosecutors Fabricate Evidence

In September 2010 Atsuko Muraki , a 54 -year-old bureaucrat , was acquitted of charges in an Osaka court that she fabricating documents to obtain a permits for a group called Rin-no-kai to save billions of yen by sending out flyers using a discount systems intended for the handicapped. What was shocking about the case was that 43-year-old prosecutor Tsunehiko Maeda tampered with evidence---changing the date on a floppy disk to make it fit the prosecution’s argument. A number of other irregularities with the investigation were uncovered.

Maeda, whose abilities as an investigator were highly regarded, was arrested on charges of tampering with computer data. Analysts said that falsifying data was easy using software available for free on the Internet. They said the misuse of power was a result of the “results-oriented” evaluation of prosecutors, the fear that prosecutors have of acquittals (with 99 percent of cases end in prosecutions) and a trend to ignore inconvenient facts.

In April 2011, Maeda was given an 18 month prison sentence for tampering with evidence. Maeda’s bosses---prosecutors Hirouch Otsubo and Motoaki Saga---were also criticized as they reportedly knew that Maeda tampered with the disc but failed to act. Later Otsubo and Saga were arrested on charges of obstructing justice in what was seen as organizational cover-up. In December 2010, Prosecutor General Hiroshi Obayashi---Japan’s top prosecutor---resigned to take responsibility for the scandal.

Autopsies in Japan

Autopsies are rarely performed in Japan. Only 10 percent of suspicious deaths and four percent of suicides in Japan undergo forensic autopsies, the lowest among advanced countries, and compared to 100 percent in Finland and Sweden and 50 to 60 percent in Britain, the United States and Australia.

In 2009, 160,000 people in Japan died from suspicious, unnatural deaths but autopsies were performed in only 10 percent of the cases. In February 2010, a 73-year-old woman who was initially judged to have died from a heart attack was found to have died from choking after an autopsy was performed. The autopsy was performed after a police officer decided something was a amiss when he noticed blood vessel damage on the victims eyelid (a sign of choking).

Even in cases of unnatural deaths they were conducted only 9 percent of the time in 2005, the lowest in the developed world. The 134,905 bodies that didn’t receive autopsies that year were examined by sight and non-invasive means. Moreover, even though Japan has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, police almost never order autopsies in the case of suicide. Performing autopsies is also vital to determine the cause of deaths in disease outbreaks and from accidents.

A survey found that the bodies of 13 known murder victims were cremated despite being labeled unnatural deaths over 10 year period. In some cases the deaths were caused by strangulation but ruled an accident or suicide and only ruled as murder when the murderer was arrested later and confessed to the crime.

Many cases that were ruled suicide conceivably could have been murders but no one will ever know for sure because the bodies were cremated before an autopsy was performed. In January 2006, a financial advisor at the heart of a financial scandal involving Internet king Takafumi Horie, was found dead in a hotel with knife wounds but was declared a suicide case and no investigation was held. The same was true with a cabinet minister involved in a corruption scandal who was found hanged in his Tokyo apartment. The death of a businessman implicated in the same scandal---who plunged t his death from an apartment---was ruled a suicide because “he placed his shoes neatly together on the balcony.”

See Sports, Sumo, Sumo Scandals, Death of 17-Year-Old Wrestler

After World War II the Americans imposed a system for conducting autopsies after finding that thousands of deaths attributed to starvation were actually caused by tuberculosis. Unfortunately the system the was set up only in the big cities. Even today much of the country is without a fully functional medical examiner system.

Because the outrage over the sumo death the Japanese low house passed legislation to double the number of autopsies and make other reforms in the system used to examine deaths.

Reasons for Few Autopsies in Japan

Autopsies are rarely performed in part because of reluctance by families to insist on procedures that invade the body of a loved one. Other reasons cited include inadequate budgets, and a shortage of pathologists (few Japanese doctors want to do pathological work). Some lawyers and even police say the main reason they are not performed is to keep police from looking bad.

According to the Los Angeles Times Japanese police “try to avoid adding murders to their case load unless the identity of the killer is obvious” and “discourage autopsies that might reveal a higher murder rate in their jurisdiction and pressure doctors to attribute unnatural deaths to health reasons, usually heart disease.”

Hiromasa Saikawa, a former policeman who quit the force in disgust over “fishy” police practices, told the Los Angeles Times, “You can commit a perfect murder in Japan because the body is not likely to be examined.” He said senior police officer are “obsessed with statistics because that’s how you get promoted” and try to keep the number of reported crimes in their districts as low as possible. “Without autopsies they can keep their percentage [of solved cases] high. It’s all about numbers.”

Saikawa, the author a book called Policeman at the Scene, said that police officers indirectly pressure doctors to sign death certificates without an autopsy. “Doctors are afraid of the police. They are afraid of retaliation. They worry the police could prosecute them for malpractice. So they are easily pressured.”

One reason so many unnatural deaths are attributed to natural cause is because there is no definition of exactly of what an “unnatural death” is. And, unlike the Western, where autopsies are performed to determine the cause of death: in Japan they are conducted to determine if a crime has been committed and without other obvious signs of a crime they are not ordered to be performed.

Autopsies Performed by Japanese Universities

There is also a shortage of personnel and facilities to carry out autopsies. There are only 221 coroners in all of Japan. Experts have recommended the number to be nearly tripled to 653. At least 39 deaths have been overlooked since 1998, 11 of them involving drugs, and surely many more than that have been missed.

There are few facilities that can carry out autopsies in Japan, where autopsies are generally performed not by police or local governments but by universities as a “contribution to society.” About 50 universities perform them. Many of these say they don’t want to do them and say it is not their duty. A single forensic autopsy, including drug tests, organ tissue exams and paperwork, can take two or three months to finish.

Facilities that perform autopsies are often overwhelmed. Twenty-eight of the universities that do them have only a single doctor performing them, A survey found a single doctor at Akita University performed 284 autopsies over a year while handling other duties. They other 22 universities have two or three doctors performing autopsies.

Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture stopped accepting requests for autopsies after the professor who did the autopsies there became ill. The professor was quoted as saying, “Doing the work by myself is an immense psychological and physical burden, I no longer have confidence in the accuracy of the autopsies I perform.” After that Aomori Prefecture was unable to find a new doctor to do autopsies and sent it autopsy cases to other prefectures. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

Need for Family Consent to Perform Autopsies Used to Cover Murders by Family Members

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “According to the NPA, there have been 45 cases since 1998 in which police erroneously concluded the cause of death was natural or accidental but turned out to have been murders or caused by other crimes. The crimes had been overlooked for such reasons as a lack of autopsies or mishandled drug tests. Of the 45 cases, the perpetrators in 20 were family members or other relatives of the victims. [Source: Tsubasa Ogawa and Yasushi Kaneko, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 24, 2012]

"Why do you want to damage my husband's body?" the widow of a man asked in tears in 1997 when she refused an autopsy in what turned out to be a double murder for insurance money case in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture. At the time, police determined that the husband had died of disease. But the woman, a nurse, was arrested four years later on suspicion of killing her husband by injecting air into a vein with a syringe, when new details came to light in 2001. The widow and her accomplices used a similar method to kill another victim. The widow died of cancer while being tried for the murder of her husband. [Ibid]

An investigator of the Kurume case reportedly told a prosecutor: "As her husband had a chronic illness, we let our guard down. If an autopsy had been performed, I think we could've prevented the second murder.” [Ibid]

The cause of death and identification investigation law, enacted in 2012 and to be enforced in fiscal 2013, stipulates measures to prevent such situations. The law allows autopsies without the consent of families when investigative authorities conclude they are necessary based on the opinions of forensic doctors if family members are given an explanation of the need for the examination beforehand. It specifies that it is the "duty of police" to determine cause of death when it is not obviously disease or some other obvious cause. [Ibid]

New Autopsy Laws in Japan

In July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Two recently enacted laws aimed at increasing the number of autopsies are expected to encourage authorities to more aggressively investigate deaths of uncertain cause and prevent serious crimes--including murders-- from being overlooked. The law on investigating causes of deaths and identification of bodies and the law to promote determination of the causes of death are designed to enable postmortem examinations without the consent of bereaved family members. [Source: Tsubasa Ogawa and Yasushi Kaneko, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 24, 2012]

Currently, if police investigators suspect a crime when they encounter a body and the cause of death is unknown, they obtain a warrant to allow an autopsy from a district court. Then, a judicial autopsy is performed. Under the old Postmortem Examination and Corpse Preservation Law an autopsy could only be performed if the bereaved family agreed to it.

In municipalities including Tokyo's 23 wards and Osaka, administrative autopsies by medical examiners, which do not require bereaved families' consent, are performed when the cause of death is unknown. Autopsies based on the new laws will be added to these practices. [Ibid]

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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