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Prison in Japan (2017) (gaijinass.com)
85 points by DyslexicAtheist on Jan 2, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 66 comments

Relevent in today's news: In the Wall Street Journal it noted: "Behind the scenes, according to people familiar with the matter, Mr. Ghosn’s advisers had been studying several scenarios to spare him a Japanese trial, where more than 99% of those indicted are convicted, according to official statistics."

That is ...incredibly high. Like China high. Facing those odds I think Mr. Ghosn made the right decision to flee.


One of the reasons for that is that Japanese prosecutors are much more reluctant to take a case to court which they are not 100% sure will lead to conviction, meaning the overall number of courtcases are smaller.

That said, there are reportedly very real problems with a) foreigners getting a fair trial and b) confession being forced under duress.

Just a reminder that you're not entitled to having a lawyer present while Japanese police interrogate you. Once arrested in Japan, you essentially lose all basic rights.

The police can also keep you in jail for months without charging you with anything. This pretty much ends your career and family life.

All of the above has happened to e.g. tourists accused of stealing a single dumpling.

Forced confessions are the bulk of what makes up that 99% conviction rate. Japanese lawyers always advise their clients to produce a confession regardless of the circumstances.

Non-natives are strongly advised to follow the law to the very letter and that they're fucked if ever arrested no matter how insignificant the infringement might first appear - and police will downplay the severity of infringement to make you confess.

The Japanese criminal justice system is only marginally better than Chinese. It's one of the areas where they just failed to advance as a society.

Technically, the police have 23 days to charge someone before they must be released. In serious crimes, police can (and likely will) re-arrest the person on a different charge.

I very much doubt that the police have held someone for months for stealing a dumpling, though.

In addition, for everyone mentioning the 99% conviction rate, it's important to keep the other part of that in mind as well: Japanese prosecutors typically drop ~50% of cases.

I have heard in a podcast of a case where police would wait the 23 days, let you out, and then immediately bring you back in on a "new" charge.

Japan’s 99% conviction rate comes with the 2nd lowest prison population per capita in the OECD.

> The Japanese criminal justice system is only marginally better than Chinese. It's one of the areas where they just failed to advance as a society.

Commit a crime in both countries and let us know which one lets you keep your kidneys.

Do you have a source for a tourist being arrested and held for months for stealing a single dumpling?

I don't doubt there are problems, but this honestly doesn't sound plausible, and Googling I can't find any reference.

I can believe a tourist being (rightly) arrested for stealing something (even if small value), and I can believe people being held in jail for months without being charged in the case of very serious suspected crimes (e.g. large-scale fraud or suspected murder), but I can't find any evidence of the two combined.

You're making it sound like everyone should avoid visiting Japan for tourism at all because you might be incarcerated for months on a misunderstanding... which just doesn't match any of my experience there, or their thriving tourism industry.

Japan has taken steps to remedy confessions being forced under duress.

As of last year, all interrogations for serious crimes (i.e., trials that will have lay judges) must be audio and video recorded, as well as any interrogations of suspects that might have mental disabilities [1].

Of course, that doesn't address issues of lengthy imprisonment before charges are filed, but it's a step in the right direction.

[1] https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/06/01/national/crime-...

Yoshie Shiratori had the same problems with forced confessions in the 1930s when he was first imprisoned and supposedly major steps were steps were taken to remediate these problems back in 1948.

Sounds like the problems are deep-rooted & systemic.

Seems odd, even verging on suspicious, to me that the police would be allowed to interview a suspect at all without recording the interaction.

Yet in most states in the USA, recordings are not made.

I don't understand why confessions are admitted as evidence at all. Anyone can confess to anything. It's only valuable if it leads to concrete evidence, i.e., "I did it and the body is buried in the wall with the cursed beating heart."

In Japan, confessions are intended to work as you suggest:

>Article 38 of Japan's Constitution categorically requires that "no person shall be convicted or punished in cases where the only proof against a suspect is his/her own confession," In practice, this constitutional requirement takes a form of safeguarding known as the "revelation of secret" (Himitsu no Bakuro, lit. "outing of secret")...

>...for confession to be a valid evidence for conviction, the Japanese court requires confession to include revelation of verifiable factual matter that only the perpetrator of the crime could have known about, such as the location of an undiscovered body or the time and place the murder weapon was purchased, a fact about the crime scene, etc. Furthermore, to safeguard against the possibility that the interrogator has implanted such knowledge into the confession, the prosecutor must prove that such revelation of secret was unknown to the police until the point of confession.


> One of the reasons for that is that Japanese prosecutors are much more reluctant to take a case to court which they are not 100% sure will lead to conviction, meaning the overall number of courtcases are smaller

What's the evidence for this claim? Do we have dropped cases rates for Japan versus other countries?

(Reduced incarceration rates are sometimes cited. But that's impossible to separate from reduced criminality, or the legal system's propensity to jail versus punish in other ways.)

Taken from Wikipedia [1], citing the paper "Why Is the Japanese Conviction Rate So High?" by Ramseyer and Rasmusen.

>In the U.S., the federal government employs 27,985 lawyers and the states employ another 38,242 (of which 24,700 are state prosecutors). In Japan, with about a third of U.S. population, the entire government employs a mere 2,000. Despite Japan having a low crime rate, such numbers create a significant case overload for prosecutors. In the U.S., there are 480 arrests (96 serious cases) per year per state prosecutor. (The actual figure is lower as some are prosecuted in federal court). In Japan, the figure is 700 per year per prosecutor. In the U.S., a rough estimate is that 42% of arrests in felony cases result in prosecution - while in Japan, the figure is only 17.5%.

>In murder, U.S. police arrested 19,000 people for 26,000 murders, in which 75% were prosecuted and courts convicted 12,000 people. In Japan, 1,800 people were arrested for 1,300 murders, but prosecutors tried only 43%.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_justice_system_of_Jap...

You are aware the US federal criminal conviction rates are significantly >90%, too, right?

Like any number like this, it depends on how you count. But 94% is frequently used.

If you want to play with those numbers yourself, https://www.justice.gov/usao/file/831856/download .

The US isn't exactly known for it's fair and perfect legal system (particularly if you're brown), so the fact that Japan's numbers are even higher says something.

I agree it's not perfect, but I'm not sure "lower conviction rates = better" is correct in all scenarios.

That means the country is arresting and bringing the wrong people to trial.

In an ideal world you're only arresting and convicting people with clear and obvious guilt. That would probably look like a society with very strong individual rights, extremely low (near 0) bias and a high conviction rate.

Not when you have money. It is mostly due to poorer charged persons accepting guilty plea deals.

Errrrr, you're talking about the "millions of dollars tax evasion" Carlos Goshn, isn't it? I mean... You don't need to be in China to land jail time for evading millions of dollars in taxes. You talk like you should go to jail for hiding hundred of millions without paying taxes.

I was originally unsympathetic to his case as well, but reading into it it does seem like he's not getting a fair case. Unlike the US where court cases are a competition between two sides, Japan uses a single prosecutor that makes a kind of report to the court, so him getting treated unfairly is significant cause for concern.

He was held for a long period of time without external contact, and has in many ways been declared guilty even though evidence is lacking.

Tax evasion is a serious crime, and serious crimes deserve good faith investigation, not just sacrificing the first convenient figure.

"In Canada, the national conviction rate is about 97%. This does not include cases in which the charges are dropped, which comprise about one-third of criminal cases. Absent Quebec, the province with the lowest conviction rate, the figure is 99%"

"In Japan, the criminal justice system has a conviction rate that exceeds 99%, including guilty plea cases. This has been attributed to low prosecutorial budgets impelling understaffed prosecutors to bring only the most obviously guilty defendants to trial."


The difference is that the Japanese system achieves those numbers in very different ways from the Canadian one [0].

> Many confessions are extracted under duress. Some of those who admit guilt are plainly innocent, as recent exonerations have shown

> Common criminal suspects may be held in detention for 23 days without charge. Many have only minimal contact with a lawyer. Few interrogations are recorded, and then not in their entirety, so there is not much to stop interrogators piling in. Physical torture is rare, but sleep deprivation, which is just as effective, is common. So are various other forms of psychological coercion. Some interrogators use moral blackmail (“Think of the shame you are bringing on your family”). A few, if they are convinced that the suspect is guilty, simply fabricate a confession and press the suspect into signing it.

This is as far from "justice" as it can be and puts those numbers in a very shameful light.

Whether the ends justify the means is up for debate but these methods are officially incompatible with most western democracy values (the US being one major exception - Guantanamo) and more in line with authoritarian states.

[0] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2015/12/05/forced-to-confe...

....so the Canadian conviction rate is about 2/3 once you include dropped charges. The Japanese figure was 99% from indictment. 97% is not the comparable stat in this case.

You a kiwi? I've only ever met kiwi's with that spelling of your name (the proper one imo) although it's incredibly rare in NA.

What does a high conviction rate have to do with this? Maybe we should turn it around and say that other jurisdictions' prosecutors are wasting money prosecuting cases they are not sure of?

In a nation with strong rule of law and in particular a presumption of innocence and robust due process a few percent of people will get off simply because the prosecutors make mistakes (either intentional or accidental), on top of people who are actually innocent. A 99% conviction rate suggests that such protections don’t exist in the Japanese system and it is thus suspect in terms of respecting human rights.

Could it also not mean that many guilty but hard to prove are let free earlier in the process? Before it goes to trial?

The fine balance between false positives and false negatives.

A balance ideally struck within actual court rooms, not outside it. Otherwise the prosecutors turn into judge, jury and executioner and you lose the point of the court system to begin with.

Is the average Juror more educated / with a better understanding of the law than your average prosecutor?

If you trust prosecutors to not be corrupt, be well trained, and do the right thing - they should be a better place to throw out flimsy cases.

Why is it a requirement in nations with strong rule of law that prosecutors make mistakes? This logic is baffling. Could it not simply be that prosecutors in Japan are very, very careful?

Of course, as others have said, the reality is that prosecutors only go to trial if they have what they view as a guaranteed conviction, and the evidence is typically a confession.

Prosecutors make mistakes everywhere because they are human and have all of the negative traits which go along with that. With due process requirements this normally leads to dismissal of the charges or acquittals. In Japan it apparently leads to soft core torture to coerce a confession which can guarantee a conviction.

That's very fair. Anecdotally my Japan-living friends speculate it is a mix of both the (positive) effect you suggest and confessions manufactured under duress.

During my travels I was advised to be particularly cautious about treating police courteously and following rules to the letter because getting arrested is a much bigger deal than elsewhere.

> more than 99% of those indicted are convicted, according to official statistics." That is ...incredibly high. Like China high.

High conviction rates aren't inherently bad. Bias and a lack of individual rights are bad (which it sounds like are present here).

In an ideal society though with strong individual rights and little to no bias, a high conviction rate would mean less innocent people getting prosecuted which is a good thing.

Ghosn fancies himself an elite and was scared of the treatment he would receive in a real jail. He was expecting house arrest, as many white collar criminals receive in western jurisdictions. I have little to no sympathy for his “plight”.

Thank God for Japan treating elites the same as the less well-heeled. Western jurisdictions should take note.

House arrest? Minimum-security prisons such as Allenwood have been referred to as "Club Fed". But I don't remember anyone in the US serving nominal jail time under house arrest. Pre-trial detention sure, but that goes for blue-collar suspects also.

I would take my chances with Japan's justice system any day over China's.

Especially as he's accused of corruption, which is non-violent crime.

> Facing those odds I think Mr. Ghosn made the right decision to flee.

Indeed, only a fool would stay, you could literally go to Moscow and pray to be sent to the goulag.

yeah good thinking. you could also think that in a country where being wrong can end your career (literally ended several prime ministers ones) then you won't charge a guy if you don't have strong proof that he is guilty. but you're right Mr. Ghosn, evading tax, using company money for his own good was right to flee.

This is largely because Japanese prosecutors are so underfunded they only take on cases with absolute certainty of success.

There’s an amazing comic called “Doing Time” by Kazuichi Hanawa about life in a Japanese prison


Hanawa was an avant-garde cartoonist who spent time in prison for building and shooting homemade guns (which he did as hobby, not with any larger criminal intentions). He illustrates daily life, abuse by guards, and the stories of his fellow prisoners quite vividly.

There are a couple takes on this I have read (Note; Going to japan to visit the peace museum is still on my bucket list.)



There was a video documentary I watched some time ago and hopefully someone can find the name because I cannot. It basically went on to describe that in japan they would only file murder charges on suspects when they knew they could get a conviction.

Otherwise the police would just file the death as an accident or something. The other thing it went into is how the yakuza would basically act as a un-official police force. Basically the proper police would let them exist as long as they kept the criminal element inline. It was a cool documentary, really hope one of you gets a neuron spark and can tell me the name.

My take as someone who wants to visit: Seems like most legal issues you read about -with people visiting japan- is they do stupid things drunk or they get into fights. It's a nation where five year old kiddos ride public transportation alone. I think they just have zero tolerance for stupid anti-social behavior.

From what I've read, the 99% conviction rate in Japan is from only prosecuting winnable cases ie. propping up the conviction rate.

The US does some related things:

1. The DoJ mailed letters to large employers to not provide legal funding for company officers because they were out-gunned. Those letters were laughed off.

2. The conviction rate for prosecutors is their "score-card" which creates all kinds of perverse incentives, especially for those elected

3. The SEC is very selective about who they will prosecute and avoid defendants with deep pockets

This post makes me think that it was a foolhardy decision to drive a rental car on my last visit to Japan. It's very easy to make mistakes driving on the side of the road you're not used to. Who knows what could have happened if a policeman saw me fail to give right of way or something like that...

That would probably just result in a ticket, which must be paid immediately at the police station. But if you'd had one drop of alcohol in your system, it would have meant jail time. The DUI limit in Japan is much lower than in the US and even if you haven't been drinking the limit doesn't matter if the cop judges you to be impaired.

Jesus, I just remembered I met some expats and we smoked a joint. It was communicated to me that it was frowned upon in Japan and maybe even serious but I'm starting to wonder exactly how much that joint could have cost me. Wtf Japan?

I wonder if there are unexpected crimes that a foreigner would commit in Japan that would land her/him in jail. Things like disposing of plastic bottles in the wrong bin (a hopefully absurd example) ...

When you are a foreigner in Japan, you can end up in a jail for doing literally nothing wrong[0]. I know of another similar case where a person had to spend time in jail for accidentally "shoplifting" when in a mall they picked a thing to buy, they didn't realize they have to pay on same floor and wanted to pay at the ground floor (there was no visible separation or anything which would indicate how it's supposed to be to person who is not a local). They didn't even put the item in any bag, just was holding it on the hand and after getting of the stairs at the floor bellow, security stopped them, then police was called, no one spoke English there... at the end I think they spent 3 days in jails until the stupid misunderstanding was sorted. Japanese justice system would be absolutely ridiculous if it wasn't so sad[1].

[0]: https://nymag.com/vindicated/2016/11/truth-lies-and-videotap...

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpz1WMsm9W4

For really trivial things you may just be told to do it properly next time (for instance not using light on bike at night). The main danger is probably difference of appreciation in the two cultures and legal systems: fight and moreover drugs are big no-no in Japan while they are almost normal in the West.

I’m not sure if drugs are so un-normal in Japan. Walking around Osaka at night, I was offered drugs multiple times by I guess either African drug dealers? That has never happened to me in NYC or LA.

Typically Nigerian and the are employed and supplied by the yakuza. It's the worst kept secret in Japan, and everyone including the police are well aware of what is going on.

If you get caught with drugs in Japan as a foreigner, you are in for a world of hurt.

Even if it's marijuana. It's not worth it. Don't do it. Don't be around it.

I just wanted to chime in with my experience visiting NYC in the past year; I have had several people approach at night to offer drugs in various locals.

I'm always amazed by comments like this... I've traveled to cities all over the US, wandered around streets late at night, hung out in seedy bars, and generally look pretty scruffy and never once has anyone offered me drugs.

Maybe they think I'm a narc.

Or maybe you just didn't notice. I've been offered drugs in New York City a ton of times, even in places like right next to Times Square which are swarming with cops 24/7. The guys in busy places are especially slick about it. They walk by without stoping and more or less whisper in your direction "weed, coke, got what you need" or something like that and just keep moving. The first couple times that happened to me I was legitimately confused, because I didn't think they'd be broadcasting it so openly like that.

In Osaka they aren’t even slick about it though. I mean, I guess they know I’m not police because I’m a foreigner, but otherwise...really?

Another anecdote here, but I've had the opposite experience and have had people make offers ranging from extremely sketchy folks in back alleys to someone selling edibles out in the open at a nicely decorated table (but still illegally).

Life is weird sometimes.

I was straight up offered weed in or around Detroit on a couple occasions. I found it more amusing than insulting, but I do wonder what this says about my appearance. Maybe it’s the long hair.

It's been a while since I've gone into NYC but in the 2000s it was common to be offered drugs exiting the Port Authority bus terminal, Penn Station, or walking around Union Square, with a casualness like asking for the time. Whether the drugs offered were real or not, I wouldn't know.

It's the opposite. If you're being offered "drugs" by people on the street, it's because you look like a mark.

You're looking at things exactly backwards.

In a big city in the USA, if you want to be offered drugs on the street, you need to look well put together, and be in a luxury district.

Stay in a high end boutique hotel in manhattan, dress well, and you'll have someone offer you drugs almost every day.

From what I've heard, the most common unexpected ones are violations of conditions for staying (overstaying visas, that kind of stuff) or stuff like this: https://forum.lowyat.net/topic/4732269/all

I'm particularly surprised by all the comments.

One of the things that people have a really wrong idea about in the US is the notion that foreigners are nice. Some of us pretend we're nice while you're a tourist spending money in our countries. It's americans who are among the nicest people I've met. You suck at politics, but you're nice. Even your tourists aren't as bad as people say.

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