crime

Court rules against lay judge in suit over stress caused by crime scene photos

21 Comments

The Fukushima District Court has turned down a suit by a woman who was claiming damages for stress she suffered after viewing grisly crime scene photos while serving as a lay judge.

The woman, Hifumi Aoki, 64, from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, served as a lay judge in a murder trial in 2012. Aoki had sought 1.6 million yen in damages after being asked to view color photos of the bodies of a couple who had been stabbed to death in 2012.

After the trial, Aoki was diagnosed with acute stress disorder (ASD) as a result of examining courtroom evidence in a murder case.

Aoki and her fellow lay judges were asked to examine the photos in relation to a case of robbery and murder, as well as listen to an audio recording of one of the victims calling the emergency services after having been stabbed. Her lawyer said she and the other lay judges had been told what to expect during the trial but said she was not mentally prepared to see grisly photos.

During a press conference after the trial, Aoki said she had thrown up after reviewing the evidence and that she was not sure she was able to bear the emotional burden of the trial, adding she suffered from insomnia. The defendant was sentenced to death after the trial ended in March 2013.

Aoki had also claimed that being on a jury violated Article 18 of the Constitution, which bans involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.

In ruling against Aoki, the presiding judge said lay judges have to expect to see and hear gruesome evidence, TBS reported. The judge also said that citizens can decline to be on juries and that serving on a jury does not constitute involuntary servitude.

Since that case came to light, the Tokyo District Court has announced new procedures to lessen the psychological burden on lay judges at trials.

In particular, lay judges will be informed ahead of the trial if grisly photos are to be introduced as evidence to the court. Lay judges will also be given the option of withdrawing from jury duty if they feel they are unable to cope with the presentation of graphic evidence, the court said.

The court will review evidence carefully and inform lay judges what to expect during the candidate selection process.

The Supreme Court has instructed all district courts to adopt the new policy.

The lay judge system was introduced in 2009. A randomly selected panel of three eligible voters sits alongside three professional judges to issue both verdicts and sentences in certain serious cases, including murder and arson.

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21 Comments
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Lay judges will also be given the option of withdrawing from jury duty if they feel they are unable to cope with the presentation of graphic evidence.

Seems to me this would undermine the purpose of the lay judge system, being judged by your peers, etc., and therefore undermine the right to a fair trial. I can predict a certain segment of the population, particularly elderly women like this plaintiff, will simply cite an inability to cope with such photos and then be excused from jury duty. And then you basically have murder trials with juries that are missing a demographic - a demographic that may very well be beneficial to a defendant.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Glad to see that she didn't win this sham case.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Wake up, lady! This is real life, not Disneyland.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

what did this woman expect from a murder trial? happy family photos of trips to kyoto?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Well, to be fair to this woman, she was probably not part of the demographic that even wanted jury (or similar) trial in Japan in the first place.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This woman was going about her business and now, as a result of being called by the state, has a mental condition she did not previously have.

the problem with your argument is that she volunteered to serve on the jury. as the judge in this case noted, a lay jurist can decline to serve on a panel. she knew beforehand that she would serve on a murder trial. and the whole purpose of a trial is to present evidence to prove the case. pictures of the dead bodies, crime scene and voice recordings would all be needed as proof that a crime was committed. should the jury just take the prosecutor's word that a crime occured? or that there were dead bodies?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

jpn-guy - agree totally.

Presenting graphic images to lay persons serves no purpose in the judicial process.

In the least they are ill qualified to handle the gruesomeness and then impartially adjudicate in accordance with the law without the hysteria.

The whole lay-judge system was borne out of the publics zero input into criminal trials to one of massive input in one swoop. They not only decide simply - guilty or not guilty - but the sentencing (years in prison to death) and are allowed to question directly the accused, often with emotionally charged questions without any background knowledge of criminal prosecution and questioning procedures.

Way over their heads in many cases.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Can you supply another reason for showing the bodies to the jury, given the reason you stated above clearly does not apply to cases where all sides agree on the basic fact that a murder has actually occurred, even if they disagree as to who did it?

It's not really about the existence of bodies I think. The prosecution has several jobs, mainly establishing the corpus delicti and a credible chain of evidence to the perpetrator. Photographs of the body and crime scene (which may also count as 'gruesome' - murder is rarely pretty) may have a crucial role in collaborating testimony or supporting the prosecutions theories of how and why the crime took place. In Japan, where jurors have a role in sentencing, you could argue that they are needed to provide an accurate picture of the degree of the crime.

That's not to say I think such pictures are appropriate in every case. But in an open justice system I think it's preferable to complicit back room deals between the defence and the prosecution.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

she volunteered to serve on the jury. as the judge in this case noted, a lay jurist can decline to serve on a panel

Her reference to Article 18 of the Constitution (involuntary servitude) would suggest that she did not volunteer and was not aware that she had the right to decline.

Having the lay judges participate in the sentencing is what leads to the prosecution trying to press the point of what a terrible crime it was, and the submission of gory photos that otherwise might not be needed. The lay judges should participate only in deciding whether the defendant dun it or not; once a guilty verdict has been obtained, then the professional judges can worry about the sentencing.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Separately, I cannot logically see why such photos need to be introduced as evidence, unless the fact that their was even a murder victim is in dispute. If all parties agree that there is a dead body with wounds, why do they need to look at it? The issue is who killed the deceased. How does looking at the body help determine who the perpetrator is?

Viewing the actual damage to the body will go towards sentencing. There's a huge difference between the violence incurred on a body with no external marks, and a body with 15 stab/slash wounds.

But lets say a trial does what you suggest and the defendant is pronounced guilty and given a death sentence. How many seconds do you think it will take the defense lawyers to file an appeal, stating that all the evidence hadn't been presented to the judges?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Regardless of her intentions, I am very interested in the Article 18 curve she threw. Is it, in fact, in the constitution that one can not do involuntary servitude? And, (As Cleo eluded to) did she have the option to decline? Do any Japanese citizens have the right to decline?

I've had a few friends who led me to believe there was a lot of pressure to do it when called upon..but I never got a clear answer as to whether it was mandatory or not.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Is it, in fact, in the constitution that one can not do involuntary servitude?

It is, but I think she'd struggle to press it in a constitutional court. I think they'd probably argue that banning jury duty isn't the 'intent' of the clause. And secondly that jury duty is a civil expectation (i.e you'd struggle to argue to a court that the government demanding tax is a form of extortion).

did she have the option to decline?

I'm not sure on what grounds she could decline. There are a fair few exceptions if you can argue that's bad for your business or if you have sick relatives etc.. I'm not sure if anything specifically applied to her.

I never got a clear answer as to whether it was mandatory or not.

You can be fined for not attending (I'm not sure if anyone has been fined though) for 100,000 yen. And there are fines for trying to get out of it by being deliberately dishonest.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

64 is hardly 'elderly'.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I was surprised to see unsympathetic comments towards this woman. We may not get used to the lay judge system but I feel sorry for this woman.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

And secondly that jury duty is a civil expectation (i.e you'd struggle to argue to a court that the government demanding tax is a form of extortion).

Because the court has its own interests in mind. They're not working for free!

Jury pay in US is often below minimum wage, unless you're a government employee, in which case it counts as paid leave (says wikipedia). Or unless your employer pays your salary.

Couldn't find on the web how much Japanese lay judges are compensated with. But the system looks very interesting.

They shouldn't have compelled the lady to serve if she didn't want to, and should have provided some example photos as warning. PSTD no joke. Not everybody likes to watch horror movies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Couldn't find on the web how much Japanese lay judges are compensated with. But the system looks very interesting.

Depends on a number of factors, but the base rate is around 8000 yen a day (with expenses on top as required). As many companies will give leave to people taking jury duty - some of them will effectively get double pay.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

OK, thanks. About minimum wage, then.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

she did not refuse to be as a lay judge when asked to be on a murder trial lay judge, On murder trial, murder scewne photos are very miportant. Footprint(as) of mutfretd? blood stain on floor? If the victim has indury on left or ritht or front or back of head infury, etc. Many more. Where V was killed? She could deckine from trial upon she did not like photo. She us complaining after trial. maybe she never watched movies or TVs that has violent scenes before?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

第十八条 何人も、いかなる奴隷的拘束も受けない。又、犯罪に因る処罰の場合を除いては、その意に反する苦役に服させられない。

"Involuntary servitude" is how it comes out in the official English translation, but the Japanese is 苦役, which is really more literally translated as "painful duty". Good luck getting any court in the world to call jury-duty "painful duty".

As for the general idea of quitting, they are in a pickle. First, as the law stands, refusing is only permitted in a small subsets of situations. On the other hand, if you "allow" people to quit, the fact of life is that even people who want to have a go will receive severe pressure to quit (from their companies, for example).

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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