Under Japanese law, if the judges have a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt they are obliged to render a verdict of not guilty.
If found not guilty, the defendant must be compensated for his detention by the Japanese government. If found guilty, those guilty of relatively minor offenses may receive a sentence of imprisonment whose execution is suspended for one to five years. This is possible if the sentence to be suspended is less than three years in prison or a fine less than 200,000 yen, and at least five years have elapsed since the completion or remission of any previous sentence.
If an individual receiving a suspended sentence is convicted of no other offenses in Japan during the time of suspension, the original sentence would be remitted. If, however, they were to commit another offense in Japan during the time of suspension, they would have to serve both the initial sentence and the new sentence. Those receiving heavier sentences will serve their sentence or pay their fine in Japan.
If an individual has strong ties to Japan and a valid visa status, he/she may be allowed to remain in Japan after receiving a suspended sentence, if a Japanese national acts as his/her sponsor with the Immigration authorities. However, those with drug-related convictions will generally be deported. Even if you are released after receiving a suspended sentence, you may not be able to renew your immigration status later, and eventually may be deported. Those without strong ties to Japan and whose visa status has expired would be deported after their conviction.
Similarly, an individual convicted and sentenced to actual imprisonment would have the same options after release from prison. Those with strong ties and a willing sponsor in Japan could be permitted to remain while others would be deported after their release from prison. Deportation in Japan is at the deportee’s own expense.
Under some circumstances, U.S. citizen prisoners may be able to serve part of their sentence in the U.S. instead of in a Japanese prison. Follow this link to learn more about Prisoner Transfer.
If a sentence includes a fine as well as imprisonment, the prisoner will be detained until the fine is paid. If they are financially unable to pay the fine, they could substitute additional imprisonment for the money at a rate of one day’s extra imprisonment for each 5,000 yen – 20,000 yen of the fine. This rate will be determined by the judge.
After conviction in the court of first instance, a defendant has two weeks in which to submit a written request for an appeal (koso). After receiving a request for an appeal, the court will set a deadline for the defendant and his/her lawyer to submit a formal statement (Koso-Shuisho) of the basis for the appeal to the appropriate High Court. In a Koso appeal, the High Court will re-examine the facts of the case to determine if they support the verdict.
One can also request a jokoku appeal to the Supreme Court in which one examines the applicability of the laws and procedures applied in the lower court decision rather than the facts of the case.
The prosecution too has the right to appeal a sentence if they believe it was too lenient or too harsh, or that the defendant should not have been found not guilty. If the defendant appeals, the High Court will not impose a higher sentence. If the prosecutor appeals, the High Court could increase the sentence.
The High Court has the power to reverse a lower court decision, alter the sentence, or return the case to a lower court for retrial. High Court decisions may also be appealed to Japan’s Supreme Court if questions of constitutional law are involved. A defendant may receive partial credit for time served during the appeal process. The amount of credit given for time served is entirely at the discretion of the judge.
There are eight high courts in Japan: Tokyo (for the Kanto area), Nagoya (for the Chubu area), Osaka (for the Kansai area), Fukuoka (for Kyushu and Okinawa), Hiroshima (for the Chugoku area), Takamatsu (for Shikoku), Sendai (for the Tohoku area), and Sapporo (for Hokkaido).
Defendants lodging an appeal are held at the detention prison nearest the high court hearing the appeal, which may involve a transfer from one detention prison to another. Those appealing to the Supreme Court would be held at the Tokyo Detention Prison.