This weekend I had the good fortune to speak at two events, one in Tokyo and one in the Kyoto/Osaka area, kicking off the Innocence Project Japan. Given the enthusiasm, passion and energy witnessed during these events, I am quite optimistic that this project will before too long free the innocent and reform the Japanese legal system. More than 120 people attended the kick-off symposium on Friday in Tokyo, and more than 150 attended the more extensive event in Osaka/Kyoto. And both of these events received such great attendance during what was a three-day holiday weekend! The team putting the IP Japan together include law professors, scientists, defense lawyers, and other professionals. Law professor Kana Sasakura of Konan University, who is also a contributing editor on this blog, and Engineering professor Mitsuyuki Inaba of Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, have taken the lead in organizing these efforts.
Japan has already seen a number of high-profile exonerations. But they have more work to do. Currently, police are allowed to interrogate suspects for days on end. And there is no widespread use of electronic recording during these interrogations. So interrogation reform aimed at curbing false confessions must be a primary goal of the new project. But Japan has some advantages other countries don’t have. For example, currently incentivized snitch testimony is not allowed, although proposals to introduce this type of troublesome testimony are lurking. And given Japan’s world leadership in technology, the country has a solid stepping off point for ensuring access to DNA testing and proper forensic controls in the future.
A lawyer who obtained a recent exoneration in an arson/murder case gave a stirring presentation about how his defense team reconstructed the house in which the fire occurred, and then performed numerous experiments with the reconstructed house which demonstrated that the fire could not have happened in the way his client said in his confession. This proved the confession to be false. Interestedly, the prosecution then reconstructed the house as well, and performed it’s own experiment. This too demonstrated that the inmate’s confession was false. The case ended in an exoneration. The defense effort in this case was top-notch, and would have made any innocence organization anywhere in the world quite proud.
Members of the Taiwan Association for Innocence attended the event. They spoke about their recent success, including one exoneration and two grants of retrial based on new evidence of innocence. They presented the IP of Japan with a beautiful sculpture of a horse, which represents moving forward with speed.
Innocence organizations now exist in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines in Asia, with organizations forming in China and Thailand. Asia may have enough innocence efforts at this point to begin coordinating efforts, or possibly form an Asian Network. Whether they form a Network will depend on political realities, but they intend on working together to bring international collaboration to their work.
Here is the powerpoint presentation used by founder Inaba that you might find interesting. It describes the structure of the new project: IPJ_kickoff_Mar2016_Inaba
And here are some pictures from the events…..