Japan: The Land of False Confessions
It’s no secret that Japan has a crime rate we in the United States could only dream of having. Being a country the size of Montana and a population 40% of the United States, how is it they are able to boast one of the world’s lowest crime rates? Or, even more concerning, is how is it that they have a conviction rate of 99.8%.
Part of it is their cultural differences. And not just the obvious differences, such as their sense of respect towards others or honorable qualities that promote a high degree of social bonding amongst communities. However, it is also a difference in the police culture as well. In Japan, it pays to have lower crime rates. Literally! Senior police officers are very mindful of these numbers, which often decide on whether one is promoted or not. So, when a crime is committed and they take someone into custody, you can be assured they are going to get a confession. Or there is little chance of the case moving forward for prosecution.
In Japan, if you are arrested for a crime, by law they can hold you for up to 23 days. That is without being charged and no access to bail or legal counsel. During that time, you will be subjected to intense interrogation techniques until you cooperate and confess. These interrogations will not be recorded and therefore not able to be scrutinized later by the attorney. You know… that you will eventually have access to. You will endure sleep deprivation as well as other effective psychological coercion until you eventually confess to whatever crime you are accused of committing. And if you make it without confessing, then most likely your case will be dismissed. That is, unless there is already overwhelming evidence as to your guilt. But these tactics are now being noticed by the public, who have often praised law enforcement for their high numbers of “solved” crimes.
Take for example the extraordinary case of Yusuke Katayama. He was a 30-year-old IT worker in Japan that was fed up with the unscrupulous police practices he knew existed. In 2012, he started posting death threats on Japanese websites in which he outlined detailed scenarios in which mass murder would take place at public events. He disseminated these threats after infecting four innocent individual’s computers with a virus that made it appear that the posts were coming from their computers. These four were arrested and charged with the crimes and were subjected to these harsh interrogations. Two of those four confessed to the crime and subsequently charged before he exposed himself as the real culprit. He claims to have done this not to cause terror or send innocent people to prison. In fact, he says that he had always planned on turning himself in for his crimes in due time. The motive was that he wanted to expose the police tactics and to make fools of them, so that others can see how their techniques can cause the innocent to be wrongfully charged.
Osaka Arson Case
Keiko Aoki and her common-law husband, Tatsuhiro Boku, were both convicted in a 1995 of killing their 11-year old daughter by burning down their home while the daughter was in the bath. Police said the motive was an insurance policy. They were both arrested and interrogated, at times up to 12 hours a day. They both eventually confessed, while still maintaining their innocence during trial, as well as their subsequent appeals. Eventually, their attorneys were able to show the court that their confessions were not valid by showing that the fire could not have happened as they cited in their confessions. Their convictions were both overturned and they were released.
Police and Prosecutors
Part of the problem, too, lies with the prosecutors. They must rely on confessions, since the police do not have the same investigative abilities as their counterparts in the United States such as wiretapping or undercover operations to obtain evidence needed to get convictions. In Japan, confessions are king. Without them, prosecutors don’t have much of a case absence hard forensic evidence. And sometimes, drastic times call for drastic measures.
Hiroshi Ichikawa was a prosecutor of 13 years when his boss told him that he needed to get a defendant to confess. Ichikawa, after grilling the defendant for 8 hours, got the suspect to sign a statement, despite admitting the suspect never said a word of what was in the statement. Ichikawa was eventually fired for threatening to kill a suspect. His defense was that he had seen his superiors do it so he thought that it was allowed. He now is working to try and change that culture.
These injustices can, and do, happen when law enforcement is not required to videotape interrogations from start to finish. Their argument many times is that they do not have the “resources” needed to accomplish this. In Japan, and many developed nations around the world, video cameras are quite ubiquitous throughout public spaces. Surely, they can afford a few cameras in a country that manufacturers most of these devices.