MALCOLM KAM WRITES — Japan’s criminal conviction rate of roughly 99.9% is nothing new, but many people seem to misinterpret this as a sign that the judicial system is doing a good job of keeping criminals off the streets.
The truth is that Japan’s conviction rate is so high because prosecutors typically only take action when they are almost certain that the evidence is sufficient—or will be made sufficient—to win in court. As such, guilt is generally determined by prosecutors who are able to detain suspects for long periods of time, “before even deciding to press charges.” It naturally follows, then, that lawyers have little motivation to prosecute criminals for whom there may be little evidence. After all, with a conviction rate of 99.9%, a loss in court would likely be a big embarrassment for a prosecutor.
There is a misconception, then, that potential criminals may be intimidated by a high conviction rate and decide against committing crimes. After all, tourists frequently cite Japan as one of the safest countries in the world.
The reality, though, is that Japan’s current judicial system may be letting many criminals roam free while detaining others. Foul play is a very real problem in investigations and interrogations conducted by Japanese prosecutors. Even senior prosecutors have been found to have tampered with evidence.
The Japanese justice system has created a culture in which prosecutors may resort to drastic measures to ensure spotless careers. Doubtless, there are similar threats in other countries, but regulatory and enforcement measures in Japan are particularly lacking. Even when the recording of interrogations was made mandatory in 2019, this was mandatory only for “cases dealt with exclusively by prosecutors and those handled by the lay judge system.” Today, nearly 97 percent of criminal cases avoid this regulatory measure.