13 December 2007

I didn’t do it

Yoko and I watched the most compelling Japanese film about the justice system in this country. It centers around a guy who gets falsely accused of feeling a lady up on the train. Given that the Japanese system has basically no due process, the guy is kept in prison, lied to by the police, and repeatedly pressured to plead guilty. He insists on taking the case to trial, has all sorts of evidence that the police acted inappropriately, on his own finds a witness from the train who says he is innocent… and is found guilty and has to go to jail. It’s such a great film in that sense. They build it all up, you’re waiting for the innocent verdict, and nothing. The film ends with an image of the prison.

Well, the story is mostly compelling because it is based on a true story. The conviction rate in Japan is 99.9%. There are no juries and the judge works (it seems) closely with the police. The police do what they want, say what they want, make the evidence they want. And the courts are useless for protecting the wrongly convicted.

A friend of mine was stopped coming out of a 7-11 last week by a woman asking him where he was from and what he was doing. She disappeared for a second, and then he found himself surrounded by eight men in dark suits asking him where he was from and what he was doing. They asked if he spoke Japanese and he said no, and they continued to question him in Japanese. When they tried to put him into a car, he protested and finally someone told him that they were the police. Apparently something had happened with a high school student–they didn’t tell him what–and the criminal had brown hair, a black jacket, and ‘a strange voice’. So they found the foreigner. He finally was able to convince them that he hadn’t done anything and they let him go. But what if he hadn’t? Or if he had misunderstood the Japanese. He could be in jail without a charge and I wouldn’t know it.

This happened to a Chinese student at the university. The head of the department accused her of stealing something. She was held in prison for 30 days without being charged. They looked for evidence for 30 days, found nothing, and released her, having ruined her life.

There is some positive change on the horizon as they will be introducing the jury system in 2009, I think. We’ll see if that changes how things are done.

I appreciate the US justice system a little more these days. There are parts of it that are unfair and we are doing the same sort of things to ‘terrorist’ suspects, but at least when it comes to crime in the States, you are innocent until proven guilty. And reasonable doubt means something. It’s like OJ. Yeah, OJ killed those people, but the police planted evidence on him. And that is a no-no. I would rather have a killer free on the streets from lack of evidence than have a person wrongly imprisoned.
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