Laypeople to decide death penalty in Japan
Starting next May, jury duty in Japan will become an even heavier responsibility, as the country's new "lay-judge" program will sometimes empower ordinary citizens to deliver death sentences.
The ethics of the death penalty aside, I find it fascinating--and terrible, actually--that someone could be called to serve on a jury and then have to live with the guilt of essentially killing someone for the rest of their lives. That's no small obligation for ordinary citizens.
The piece is worth reading in its entirety, as it discusses some of the relevant issues surrounding warrior culture in Japan and the historical lack of an incarceration system there.
As civilization advances, cruelty retreats — or so humanists fondly believe. If it's true, does capital punishment have a place in a civilized, humane society? A consensus taking shape in most developed nations holds that it does not. Japan, with 13 executions in less than a year under former Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama and a reported 80 percent of the public supporting the extreme penalty, seems to be swimming against the current on this issue.
Is it cruel to execute the perpetrator of a grotesque crime? The question presses all the more urgently because the "lay-judge" system debuting next May will require ordinary citizens to deliver the life and death verdicts that until now have been the exclusive province of legal professionals.
A peculiar — and peculiarly cruel, it has been said — feature of Japanese capital punishment is that the condemned criminal waits on death row with no idea when the sentence will be carried out. The suspense can be unbearable, as prison guards know very well.
"I'll kill you, I'll kill you all!"
Prison official Masahiko Fujita, 62, has served as a guard on death row, and recalls for Asahi Geino (July 31) a typical prisoner outburst.
"I'll kill you, and get another trial, and as long as the trial lasts they can't execute me!"
"You can't imagine what it does, psychologically, to send a man to his death," says Fujita, "no matter how appalling the condemned person's crime."
A rope is attached to the prisoner's neck. At the push of a button the floor disappears beneath his or her feet. Five guards push five buttons; no one knows which is the active one.
The law establishing the lay judge system, in which citizens will serve as de facto jurors in trials involving serious crimes, will take effect May 21 next year, the government announced Tuesday.
Because the system will apply to cases for which indictments are filed on that date or later, the first trial with lay judges will be held in late July or early August 2009 after pretrial deliberations by prosecutors, defense lawyers and courts, according to a senior Justice Ministry official.
The law, enacted May 21, 2004, calls for six eligible voters to work with three professional judges at district courts to determine a defendant's guilt and, if applicable, the sentence. The lay judges will be involved in trials for serious crimes, including murder.