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Japan | Trial ruling date for man accused of 1966 murder set for September

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Iwao Hakamada, who in a rare example is being retried over a 1966 murder case, will be given a verdict on Sept. 26, the Shizuoka District Court said Wednesday, which could see him finally acquitted more than five decades after he was sentenced to death by the same court. In the last trial session, prosecutors again sought the death penalty for the 88-year-old, saying there is enough evidence to show that Hakamata is the perpetrator, while defense lawyers argued that he is not guilty.

Japan | Death-row inmates' lawsuit targeting same-day notifications of executions dismissed

The Osaka District Court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by death row inmates that claimed same-day notifications of executions violate the Constitution — the first ruling of its kind.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against the government in hopes of sparking a wider discussion on the rights of death row prisoners. They also sought ¥22 million in compensation and plan to appeal to a higher court.

Presiding Judge Noriko Yokota said the social standing of the two plaintiffs — being death row inmates — doesn't allow them to avoid execution when they are notified.

Yokota also said the plaintiffs “are in a position to accept the execution according to the current legislation on death penalty.” She rejected their claim for compensation, saying it would practically nullify their death sentences.

The ruling did not state whether same-day notifications are constitutional or not.

The plaintiffs argued that notifying death row inmates an hour or two before their execution leaves them with no time to file a complaint and violates the right to due process guaranteed in Article 13 of the Constitution.

They said they are “living in hell” because they spend every day not knowing when they will be executed.

Yuko Shiota, an official at the Center for Prisoners’ Rights, said that in the past, death row inmates were given a few days prior notice of the execution. However, this was changed to same-day notifications because some inmates took their own lives after being told of the schedule, she said.

A key problem with the current policy, Shiota said, is cases in which individuals are wrongly sentenced to death and are in the process of seeking a retrial — which can be a lengthy process.

“If the person is notified several days in advance, the lawyer can go to see the inmate ... and they can file an appeal on grounds for human rights,” she said. “They would also have time to say goodbye to their family and friends.”

In one high-profile example, Iwao Hakamata had been on death row for more than 30 years over a 1966 murder case until the Tokyo High Court sent the case back to the district court for a retrial last year, raising the possibility that he will be exonerated. Hakamata was freed and the trial is currently underway at the Shizuoka District Court.

In Japan, there were 109 death row inmates as of the end of March. The most recent death row inmate to be executed, in July 2022, was Tomohiro Kato, who was convicted over a mass killing in Tokyo’s Akihabara district in 2008.

As of December 2022, Japan is one of 55 countries that has capital punishment, according to Amnesty International.

Source: japantimes.co.jp, Karin Kaneko, April 15, 2024

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted."

— Oscar Wilde



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