Toshikazu Sugaya spent 17 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping and murdering a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, in 1990 but was freed this month after recent tests indicated his DNA did not match traces found on the victim's clothing. Initial tests had led to his getting a life sentence.
But having lay judges, or "saibanin," participate in the criminal trial to weigh the evidence and reach a verdict should lead to fewer miscarriages of justice, because the fresh eyes of the public will be involved in the trial process and they will try to do the right thing, the lawyers said.
"I can't say firmly that lay judges could have prevented Sugaya's conviction, because forensic evidence and a confession were submitted, and there is no proof the lay judges would not have been swayed into believing them," Makoto Miyazaki, president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.
Satoru Shinomiya, a lawyer and professor at Kokugakuin University law school, said the courts failed to listen to Sugaya's attorneys, who argued that the accuracy of the early DNA tests were problematic because the sample was collected long after the crime and was not properly stored.
"If the lay judges had been there, at least they would have listened to the argument carefully," Shinomiya said.
Coming soon: the law of evidence on Spindle Law