Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Death Penalty and Democracy

"In sentencing to death the killer of Nagasaki Mayor Itcho Ito, the Nagasaki District Court accepted the prosecution's argument that the murder constituted "terrorism against the democratic process," giving this more weight than the fact that only one person was killed.

"In response to the prosecutors' insistence that the crime was an act of terrorism, the court judged the killing was a challenge to democracy and an "extremely vicious crime involving unprecedented violence against administrative officials."

""It was the right verdict," Yuya Nitta, deputy head of the Nagasaki District Public Prosecutors Office, said to reporters after the ruling Monday. "Though the number of victims is an important factor, it's not everything."

"In past murder trials, the number of victims has been seen as key in determining whether to hand down a death penalty. Other important factors include the motive behind the crime, and its overall impact.

"The murder was a rare case of an incumbent mayor being shot dead during a reelection campaign and only a few days before polling.

"Registration of candidates to replace Ito was hurriedly conducted, and Nagasaki citizens were forced to choose their next mayor in very unusual circumstances.

"On polling day, there were about 15,000 invalid ballots, accounting for about 8 percent of all votes.

"Also in Nagasaki, then Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima was shot and injured in January 1990. In Ito's case, a senior prosecutor said: "It's unforgivable to challenge the legal order with violence. A majority of the prosecutors favored a death sentence."

"Disputed points in the trial include whether the murderer, Tetsuya Shiroo, was motivated by a desire to prevent Ito's reelection, and whether the crime was premeditated. The judges accepted most of the prosecutors' arguments, with the ruling repeatedly emphasizing that the crime was a threat to democracy.

"Shiroo's lawyers immediately appealed the ruling. At a press conference in the city Monday, Katsushige Kawabata, head of his defense lawyers, said, "Our arguments weren't given due weight."

"In the trial, the defendant did not dispute that he killed the mayor. But his lawyers sought to avoid a death sentence by emphasizing that his crime had only one victim. Their argument was based on statistics that show the death penalty has rarely been imposed in cases involving only one victim.

""The ruling did not clarify why a death sentence was chosen," Kawabata said. "I'm concerned about how punishments will be decided in the future. There may be a shift to excessively strict penalties."

"According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, since the Supreme Court set out the so-called Nagayama standard on when to impose death sentences in 1983, 25 of 166 cases in which death sentences were finalized, or about 15 percent, involved only one victim. The Nagayama standard, named after serial killer Norio Nagayama, who murdered four people in 1968, is a nine-point set of criteria for determining whether the death penalty should be imposed.

"Looking at 10 such cases since 2001, the crimes were all extremely vicious in nature. In five of them, the murderers committed the crimes while on parole after serving indefinite prison terms for other crimes including murder.

"Takeshi Tsuchimoto, head of the Law School of Hakuoh University, observed the sentencing. "The ruling took a strict attitude toward violence targeting administrative officials," he said.

"The expert in criminal justice said: "I think the Nagayama standard was really created to avoid death sentences. But the latest ruling indicated a move toward stricter punishments following a Supreme Court ruling in June 2006 on a case in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in which a woman and her child were killed."

""The crime was motivated by one gang member's desire for recognition, not by any political motive," said Prof. Toyo Atsumi of Kyoto Sangyo University's Law School, an expert on the Penal Code.

""Considering that, and the fact that there was only one victim, a death sentence should have been avoided. I fear the range of cases in which death sentences will be chosen may be expanded," he added.

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"Murder prompts law change

"The murder of the Nagasaki mayor prompted the Diet to revise the Antigang Law, with the change to take effect in August. The revised law covers violent action against administrative officials as part of gang activities.

"After the revision, police will be able to immediately order gangs to stop intimidation of administrative officials. But other issues remain to be addressed.

"The National Police Agency says prefectural police forces and prefectural centers for antigang activities across the nation have received more than 2,000 complaints every year since 2003.

"In 2007, they received 2,536--the highest figure since 1995, when such statistics were first collected.

""This is one piece of proof that gangs have earned money through public works projects," a senior NPA official said.

"Motoo Kakizoe, a lawyer who is an expert in gang crimes, said, "The government should consider legislation to directly control gang organizations as soon as possible.""

By Ichiro Komatsu, Shintaro Matsumoto and Manabu Kimura (5/28/2008), Yomiuri Shimbun, Link to article (last visited 6/3/2008)

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