If the prosecutor believes there is sufficient evidence, the suspect will be brought before a judge again and formally indicted. Prosecutors in Japan generally do not take a case to trial unless they are convinced they can win. After indictment, the conviction rate in Japan is over 99 percent. If indicted, the defendant is usually transferred to the regional detention prison where he/she will be held for the duration of the trial.
Information on the Japanese Judicial System is available on the Japan Federation of Bar Associations website.
There is no trial by jury in Japan. Instead, cases are tried by a panel of three judges, unless the case is a serious criminal case. Serious criminal cases are tried under a lay judge system called “Saiban-in” (citizen judge) system, similar to jury system.
Individual court sessions can last a short period of time or several hours. Subsequent sessions will be held anywhere from several days to several weeks later.
Depending on the complexity of the case, a trial could last for many months. If a defendant pleads guilty, the trial could be resolved in as few as two hearings.
A trial will typically begin by identifying the defendant and reading the charges against him/her. The defendant will be advised of the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer individual questions. The defendant will be given an opportunity to make a statement about the charges but warned that the statement could be used against him/her. The defendant then enters a plea. Following this the attorney makes the opening statement for the defense followed by the prosecutor’s opening statement.
If the case is complex, subsequent sessions will be held for the prosecutor and the defense to present evidence. After all the evidence is presented, the prosecutor and the defense make their closing arguments. The judge will then set a date to render their judgment and sentence. Even with a guilty plea, a trial will usually consist of a minimum of two sessions, except for a speedy trial as described below. At the court’s discretion, defendants may receive partial credit for time spent prior to the conviction.
A speedy trial may be implemented for a first time offender charged with a misdemeanor for which the sentence will be suspended. Provided that you plead guilty, and both the prosecutor and you consent to the proceedings, a trial should be held in two weeks of the date of the indictment. The trial and the sentencing will be completed in one day.
Lay Judge System
Serious criminal cases are tried under the lay judge system. Six lay judges randomly selected from among eligible voters, together with three professional judges at district courts, examine serious criminal cases such as murder, robbery resulting in bodily injury or death, bodily injury resulting in death, unsafe driving (such as drunken driving) resulting in death, arson of an inhabited building, kidnapping for ransom, and abandonment (of a child) by a person responsible for protection resulting in death. This system is different from the jury system in the United States where jurors are involved in deciding guilt or innocence, and the judges determine the sentence. Lay judges participate in determining guilt or innocence, and if they find the defendant guilty, also participate in determining the sentence, including the death penalty. Verdicts and sentences are determined by majority vote. A guilty verdict must be supported by at least one professional judge. Lay judges also participate in the questioning of the defendant and trial witnesses.
Private lawyers are expensive in Japan, charging roughly $6,000 to $10,000 for a criminal case. Statistics suggest that the most effective period for legal intervention is at the pre-indictment period when a lawyer can exert most influence on the outcome of the case.
Japanese prosecutors do not face the same workload constraints as their American counterparts and have sufficient resources to prosecute each and every crime to the full extent of the law.
If a defendant is unable to hire a lawyer, the court-appointed lawyer can be assigned. There is no Public Defender’s office in Japan, and court-appointed lawyers are really private lawyers who have been tasked with defending an indigent client.