Japan’s lay judge system, in which ordinary citizens assist in judging criminal trials, on Tuesday marked 10 years since being implemented on May 21, 2009.
Under the system, six lay judges and three professional judges hear cases for crimes such as murder, robbery, arson and sexual assault.
According to the Supreme Court, as of the end of 2018, more than 11,700 defendants were sentenced under the lay judge system throughout Japan, Fuji TV reported Tuesday. Since June 2012, the Supreme Court has examined the weight of the defendant’s sentencing every two years by comparing it with court rulings prior to the introduction of the lay judge system in 2009.
As a result, 500 cases where defendants faced murder charges under a professional judge were sentenced to “more than 11 years in prison but no more than 13 years.” However, defendants in more than 1,000 murder trials subject to the lay judge system received a stiffer terms of “more than 13 years behind bars but no more than 15 years.”
Sexual assault cases also tend to have more severe punishments in trials evaluated by lay judges, which in turn reflect the average citizen’s view toward such heinous crimes. While the majority of trials overseen by professional judges handed out 3-5 years in prison, sexual assault cases tried under lay judges sentenced defendants to an average 5-7 years in prison.
On the other hand, arson cases tend to have lighter sentences during lay judge trials.
In addition, defendants with a suspended prison sentence were 55.4% more likely to have probation support by lay judges, which is 20% higher than cases tried by a professional judge alone. Observers say this number reflects how ordinary citizens believe that support and recovery resources to prisoners upon their release is vital for their re-entry into society.
Meanwhile, a Kyodo News survey found that one in three lay judges (31 percent of 342 respondents) found their experience very stressful.
One of the main difficulties cited by respondents was the necessity to see photos of dead bodies and other disturbing types of evidence, as well as having to decide on the death sentence Kyodo reported.© Japan Today/Kyodo