Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Supreme Court urges new psychiatric testing rules

"A draft of a Supreme Court research paper looking into the use of psychiatric evaluations to determine the criminal competency of defendants contains a demand that such evaluations, in principle, only be conducted before a trial begins, it was learned Tuesday.

"Looking ahead to the planned introduction of the lay judge system in May next year, the draft paper hopes this restriction will prevent the prolongation of trials through the defense or prosecution demanding a psychiatric reevaluation if they are dissatisfied with the results of the original evaluation.

"The draft also demands that psychiatrists refrain from giving opinions as to whether a defendant is criminally responsible for his or her actions and stick to the medical facts, so as to prevent the results of evaluations from unduly influencing the decisions of lay judges.

"The top court plans to compile an official research report, which will be based on the opinions of judges, before autumn. It hopes the contents of the report will form part of the new guidelines for the lay judge system.

"The Penal Code stipulates that a defendant evaluated in psychiatric tests not to have been criminally responsible, because of mental illness, when a crime was committed (non compos mentis), must be found not guilty. When a defendant is judged to have had noticeably diminished criminal responsibility at the time of the crime (diminished capacity), he or she must be given a lighter sentence.

"Based on National Police Agency figures, about 10 percent of the 1,000 or so murder and arson suspects expected to stand trial annually under the lay judge system likely will have or will be suspected of having a mental illness.

"Trials in the past have often been drawn out because psychiatrists have been requested to perform evaluations after a trial has started and either the defense or prosecution demands a reevaluation after being dissatisfied with the original result.

"The trial of Tsutomu Miyazaki, who was executed last month for abducting and killing four young girls in the Kanto region in 1988 and 1989, was extended for this reason.

"In addition, there have been many cases in which an examiner not only made a medical judgment, but also alluded to whether a defendant was criminally competent, resulting in the opinion of the examiner running counter to the court's decision.

"Kaori Mihashi, a 33-year-old woman who is currently appealing her incarceration for killing her husband at their home in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, and abandoning his dismembered body, was found by psychiatrists to be mentally incompetent at the time of the crime. But the Tokyo District Court in April judged she was fully mentally competent to bear criminal responsibility and handed down a 15-year prison sentence."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (7/2/2008), Link to article (last visited 7/4/2008)

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