My Japanophile brother sent along this NYT article about Japan's criminal justice system that was incredibly surprising to me. Norimitsu Onishi makes it sound as if Japanese police don't even do proper investigations or gather evidence, they just pick a suspect, coerce a confession, and then rely on that confession alone for a conviction.
The Japanese authorities have long relied on confessions to take suspects to court, instead of building cases based on solid evidence. Human rights groups have criticized the practice for leading to abuses of due process and convictions of innocent people.
But in recent months developments in this case and two others have shown just how far the authorities will go in securing confessions. Calls for reforms in the criminal justice system have increased, even as Japan is to adopt a jury-style system in 2009 and is considering allowing victims and their relatives to question defendants in court.
In Saga Prefecture in March, a high court upheld the acquittal of a man who said he had been coerced into confessing to killing three women in the late 1980s. The court found that there was no evidence against the man other than the confession, which had been extracted from him after 17 days of interrogations that went on more than 10 hours a day.
In Toyama Prefecture the police acknowledged early this year that a taxi driver who had served almost three years in prison for rape and attempted rape in 2002 was innocent, after they found the real culprit. The driver said he had been browbeaten into affixing his fingerprint to a confession drawn up by the police after three days of interrogation.
Who knows how exaggerated or widespread these incidents are, but it's still odd to consider that a rather modern, wealthy, civilized nation doesn't even have jury trials.